CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Servicemembers planning to transfer out from Okinawa are being warned in advance: If you can’t sell your car, junk it or face fees down the road.

Abandoned cars have been a continual problem for law enforcement officials on Okinawa. This year, cops are putting the word out that left-behind cars could catch up with servicemembers in the form of garnished wages.

“It’s a pretty big problem,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Hanz Grünauer of Camp Foster’s Vehicle Registration office. “We always get complaints about abandoned vehicles. People just don’t de-register their cars.”

Servicemembers on Okinawa are required to de-register cars before leaving the island. Selling the cars sometimes is difficult, Grünauer said.

The flow of personnel arriving doesn’t always match that of those leaving. That, combined with a large market of fairly cheap autos, means holding out to get the money back on a car isn’t always an option.

“Okinawa is a buyer’s market,” he said. “If you’re not selling at the right time and for the right amount, it’s just not going to sell.”

Unsold and abandoned cars are so much of a problem, in fact, that Camp Kinser’s impound lot receives an average of three or four cars a day, said Air Force Senior Airman Reggie Richards, clerk at the lot.

“Most of the cars look abandoned,” he said. “They come in with flat tires, the interiors are stripped out. Some even come in without engines.

“It’s usually a while before we get them,” he said. “The JCIs are usually expired or there are old road tax stickers still on them.”

Failure to sell the car doesn’t free the servicemember of the responsibility to dispose of it, Grünauer explained.

Every servicemember who registers a car signs a statement of responsibility explaining he or she is required to dispose of the car if it’s not sold.

In that statement, he added, is a paragraph saying the servicemember understands any disposal costs could be garnished from his or her wages.

Leaving the island offers no protection.

License plates and vehicle identification numbers can be used to learn an owner’s new location; fees then are forwarded. Also, Grünauer said, “We send a letter to the servicemember’s next commander at the next duty station. There, the finance section will take the fees out” of the offender’s paycheck. Those fees could top $300, including disposal and towing, he said.

Nor does separating from military service prevent collection. The fees can be garnished from future income tax returns, Grünauer said.

He said the easiest way to dispose of an unwanted car is to de-register the vehicle at a local insurance company that can arrange all details.

A servicemember can save a little cash by taking a car to a local junkyard.

The receipts and certificates of disposal need to be turned in to vehicle registration before the servicemember can check out to fly off Okinawa.

However, problems can arise when a servicemember leaves a power of attorney with a friend who’s agreed to try to sell the servicemember’s car, base officials said.

If the power of attorney expires before the car is sold, the owner’s absence makes the document difficult to renew — increasing the likelihood that the vehicle may be abandoned.

For more information, contact vehicle registration at 645-3963.

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