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AGO 1956 No. 254 - April 30, 1956
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

SCRAP METAL COMPANIES ‑- WRECKERS ‑- JUNK DEALERS, PURCHASE BY 

(1) Unlawful for scrap metal companies to purchase vehicles requiring licenses, having no title at time of sale, except from licensed auto wrecker.

 (2) Same as above, where motor has been removed, unless scrap metal company is licensed wrecker and records disposition of motor and motor number.

 (3) Scrap metal companies may not purchase partially dismantled motor vehicles required to be licensed from junk dealers for purpose of changing form unless junk dealer is licensed wrecker.
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                                                                   April 30, 1956

Honorable Charles O. Carroll
Prosecuting Attorney of King County
County-City Building
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 254

 Attention:  !ttF. A. Walterskirchen
            Chief Criminal Deputy
Dear Sir:

             We are in receipt of your letter requesting an opinion from this office on certain questions which we paraphrase as follows:

             (1) Can scrap metal companies legally buy automobiles of a type required to be licensed by law for which no title is presented at the time of sale?

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Can scrap metal companies legally buy automobiles of a type required to be licensed by law, from persons other than licensed motor vehicle wreckers, where the motors have been removed?

             (3) Can scrap metal companies legally buy cut-up automobiles of a type required to be licensed by law from junk wagon dealers?

             Our answer to your first question is in the negative, unless the purchase is made from a licensed motor vehicle wrecker.

             Our answer to your second question is in the negative, unless the purchasing company is a licensed motor vehicle wrecker, in which case it must obtain and place in its records information as to the disposition of the motor and the motor identification number.

             Our answer to your third question is in the negative, unless either the particular junk dealer or scrap metal company is a licensed motor vehicle wrecker.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             (1) Answering your first question, the pertinent statutes provide as follows:

             RCW 46.80.010:

             "The term 'motor vehicle wrecker,' whenever used in this chapter, means every person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation engaged in the business of buying, selling, or dealing in vehicles of a type required to be licensed under the laws of this state, for the purpose of wrecking, dismantling, disassembling, or substantially changing the form of any motor vehicle, or who buys or sells integral secondhand parts of component material thereof, in whole or in part, and deals in secondhand motor vehicle parts.

             ". . ."

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            RCW 46.80.080:

             "Every motor vehicle wrecker shall maintain books or files in which he shall keep a record and a description of every vehicle wrecked, dismantled, disassembled, or substantially altered by him, together with the name of the person, firm, or corporation from whom he purchased the vehicle.  Such records shall also contain:

             "(1) The certificate of title number (if previously titled in this or any other state);

             "(2) Name of state where last registered;

             "(3) Number of the last license number plate issued;

             "(4) Name of vehicle;

             "(5) Motor or identification number and serial number of the vehicle;

             ". . .

             "(7) Disposition of the motor and chassis, and such other information as the director may require.  Such record shall be subject to inspection at all times by members of the police department, sheriff's office, and members of the Washington state patrol. . . ."

             RCW 46.80.090:

            "Within thirty days after a vehicle has been acquired by a motor vehicle wrecker he shall furnish a written report thereof to the director on forms furnished by the director.  This report shall be in such form as the director shall  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] prescribe and shall be accompanied by the certificate of title, if the vehicle has been last registered in a state which issues a certificate, or a record of registration if registered in a state which does not issue a certificate of title.  No motor vehicle wrecker shall acquire a vehicle without first obtaining such record or title.

             ". . . " (Emphasis supplied.)

             We must first consider the scope of the definition of "motor vehicle wreckers" contained in RCW 46.80.010 with regard to scrap metal companies.  More particularly we must determine whether scrap metal companies are firms, partnerships associations or corporations (a) engaged in the business of buying, selling or dealing in vehicles of a type required to be licensed under the laws of this state, (b) for the purpose of wrecking, dismantling, disassembling or substantially changing the form thereof.

             (a) Scrap metal companies are engaged in the business of buying and selling scrap metal.  You mentioned that many scrap metal companies are engaged in the practice of buying scrap metal, in the form of motor vehicles which are required to be licensed by the laws of this state.  We feel that where a scrap metal company purchases scrap metal in the form of motor vehicles of a type required to be licensed by the laws of our state, it thereby holds itself out to the public as a purchaser of such vehicles as part of the conduct of its scrap metal business.  By such purchases, its willingness to make similar dealings becomes part of its good will or custom by which it is known and, therefore, becomes a continuous, permanent aspect of the business.

             (b) The principal reason or motive of a scrap metal company for the purchase of a motor vehicle is to alter its character or form from a motor vehicle to scrap metal which the company may sell at a profit.  It does not intend that the vehicle again be used as or retain any aspect of the character of a motor vehicle.  Thus, its purpose in purchasing and selling these motor vehicles is to substantially change their form.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            In our opinion, where a scrap metal company in the course of its business purchases one or more motor vehicles of a type required to be licensed by the laws of this state, it is "engaged in the business" of "buying, selling or dealing in" such vehicles and falls within the definition of a motor vehicle wrecker contained in RCW 46.80.010.  We do not feel that it was the intention of the legislature, in enacting chapter 46.80 RCW, to exclude from its scope persons, firms or corporations, etc., who engage in the same type of business transactions as persons, firms or corporations exclusively in the auto wrecking business, merely because they may call themselves scrap metal companies and do not confine their purchases of scrap metal to motor vehicles.

             Having determined that scrap metal companies are motor vehicle wreckers within the meaning of RCW 46.80.010, we must inquire if the provisions of chapter 46.80 RCW prohibit the purchase by motor vehicle wreckers of motor vehicles required to be licensed by law, for which there was no title presented at the time of sale.

             RCW 46.80.090 clearly prohibits such a purchase where no title is presented at the time of sale.

             (2) Answering your second question, we must note at the outset that no law prohibits a motor vehicle wrecker from purchasing a motor vehicle from which the motor has been removed.  However, a scrap metal company must be a licensed motor vehicle wrecker in order legally to make such a purchase.  Further, RCW 46.80.080 (5) and (7) require a motor vehicle wrecker to make a record, at the time of the purchase, of the motor number and the disposition made of the motor.  Therefore, a motor vehicle wrecker would have to obtain and record this information before purchasing a motor vehicle without a motor.

             Nothing in this opinion should be construed to imply that scrap metal companies may not legally buy from licensed motor vehicle wreckers motor vehicles required to be licensed by law, from which the motors have been removed and for which there was no title presented at the time of sale.  After a motor vehicle is acquired by a licensed wrecker and the title is delivered to the director of licenses as required by RCW 46.80.090, the vehicle is no longer of a type required  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] to be licensed under the laws of this state.  Such a purchase would not bring the purchaser within the scope of RCW 46.80.010.  There is no law prohibiting a scrap dealer from purchasing motor vehicles of a type not required to be licensed by state law without being presented with title.  Wrecked vehicles for which the certificates of registration and title have been surrendered by the legal and registered owners to the director of licenses pursuant to RCW 46.12.070 are not of a type required to be licensed by state law.

             We conclude that scrap metal companies may legally buy automobiles for which there was no title presented at the time of sale, only if the purchase is made from a licensed motor vehicle wrecker or if the vehicle is of a type not required to be licensed by state law.  A scrap metal company which is a licensed wrecker may purchase a motor vehicle from which the motor has been removed, provided it is furnished with, and records, the number of the vehicle's former motor and the disposition made of it.

             (3) Answering your third question, we feel that on the basis of our analysis of your first and second questions, a scrap metal company may not legally buy cut-up automobiles from junk wagon dealers for the purpose of wrecking, dismantling, disassembling or substantially changing their form, unless either the particular junk dealer or the scrap metal company is a licensed motor vehicle wrecker, or unless the vehicle is of a type not required to be licensed by law.

            We hope this information will be of service to you.

 Very truly yours,
DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General 

DUANE S. RADLIFF
Assistant Attorney General

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