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Rob on the road Monday, 20 January, 2003, 16:10 GMT
Turning scrap into cash
Car being crushed
The company handles 100 abandoned cars a week
The dumping of old cars on the streets is a growing problem.

But it's proving profitable for some of the UK's salvage and scrap businesses.

One example is Cardiff-based Dragon Rescue, which has grown from 10 employees to more than 70 in the past decade.

As well as collecting abandoned vehicles it has also branched out into forensics operations with the police.

Each year an estimated 350,000 cars are dumped, and the problem is expected to get worse.

Legislation

Decontamination legislation means motorists have to pay the cost of scrapping their cars.

That can cost 50 a time, so the cheapest option for many is simply to leave them in the streets.

It's thought the number abandoned each year could reach 750,000.

Dragon's job is to collect these vehicles and take them back to one of its five sites.

Successful

While the company disposes of the cars, its investigators try to track down the owners.

Dragon Rescue MD Steve Powell
Steve Powell: "National problem"
If they are successful, the cost of collecting and crushing the car - about 120 - is usually met by the owner's insurance.

If not, Dragon has to pick up the bill - and that happens in half of cases.

"Eventually you get to someone who says 'I sold it in a pub two weeks ago and I don't know who I sold it to', and that's the end of it," says Dragon Rescue's managing director, Steve Powell.

"It's a national problem - it's getting worse and worse."

Companies such as Dragon are lobbying for the last registered owner of a vehicle to be held responsible for the costs of disposal.

Invested heavily

Dragon has invested heavily in its business. There are two large cranes, capable of lifting 46 tonnes, which cost 250,000 each.

But the most interesting development is its move into police work.

Dragon has spent 115,000 on Wales's most advanced forensic facility.

Forensic examination centre
The forensic facility cost 115,000
It's a vehicle examination centre that's secure, ultra-clean and specially lit, so police scientists can study cars to look for clues about crimes or accidents.

"We've got all the facilities scenes-of-crime officers need to carry out their investigations effectively without any disturbance from people or elements - wind, rain, dust, that sort of thing," says storage manager Tim Williams.

It's an example of how more police business is being sub-contracted out. Dragon's huge storage capability makes it a logical choice.

And the company is looking at further ways to expand.

New legislation will eventually mean old cars have to be processed to meet higher environmental standards.

Dismantling village

It will require a big investment to get the necessary equipment for the recycling procedure.

So Dragon is discussing with other salvage companies the possibility of setting up a huge dismantling village.

It would operate round the clock and could generate scores of jobs.

A business plan is being drawn up and the five acre site could be operational within two years.

The salvage industry is having to change to meet new requirements, but companies such as Dragon Rescue are well-equipped to meet the challenge.

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