Carolina Breakdown
October 3, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Why do I see so many abandoned cars in the Triangle?

I moved down to NC about two years ago for grad school, having previously lived in NYC, in Boston and in Milwaukee. One thing that makes the Triangle stand out in my mind, however, is the sheer number of abandoned vehicles that people leave by the side of the road. I noticed them the very first time I came down to visit, since it's not something I remember seeing too many anywhere else I lived---although practically speaking I must have some a good number without really noticing them.

They're left by the roadside without any visible damage, usually with a plastic bag or shirt sticking out of one window (which I am told means "I'll come back"). I see them both on the side of state and interstate highways. Granted, I've long since started to look for them, but I'll see at least one on any sufficiently long drive, say 10 miles or more, away from surface roads. Sometimes I'll see three or four.

Of course, cars break down, and perhaps sometimes you can't wait with the car. But why does North Carolina seem (at least to me) like the abandoned car capital of the US? Is there something that's incentivizing people to ditch their cars next to highways, or is it just my confirmation bias?
posted by Bromius to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It might not be that more cars get abandoned so much as the authorities don't remove abandoned cars as quickly. Purely theorizing here but maybe the lack of snow removal makes cars on the side of the road less of a hazard in the south?
posted by ghharr at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2011

I drove the Long Island Expressway last week and wondered the same thing! I wonder if it's just some kind of confirmation bias at work? Like we don't notice the cars around home because they're just part of what we're so used to seeing, and when we're driving somewhere else we just notice more?
posted by Blake at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2011

I don't know why, but I have heard the exact same question from another northerner. It's not a uniquely NC thing, it's a southern thing.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:24 AM on October 3, 2011

I think what ghharr said is one factor, though it's not just a winter thing, the state tolerates it more and may have less strict penalties or time limits.

But a bigger factor is probably the poor public transportation and urban areas that are more spread out. In the south more people who can barely afford a car absolutely need one. That leads to more highway brakedowns.
posted by Webnym at 9:45 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't say how true this is or not, but I have been told in the past that lots of times those are cars that were pulled over for DUIs on Friday/Saturday nights. The cars just stay where they are until someone gets bailed out and a friend takes them to go pick it up, which may not be immediately or the next day.

Not sure how much of that is truth, but there are lots of universities in the area (UNC, NCSU, Duke) and students are often driving between Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill on the weekends to see friends at other schools, go to shows in different towns, etc.
posted by ejazen at 9:48 AM on October 3, 2011

I've lived here for six years and I've never noticed this.
posted by something something at 9:48 AM on October 3, 2011

I just moved to the Triangle a month and a half ago and I've remarked to many people that the roads and roadsides here are better-maintained and less cluttered than where I came from. Which is Michigan.
posted by ardgedee at 9:59 AM on October 3, 2011

Another factor: NC doesn't use salt on the roadways, so cars tend to last longer. Older cars = more breakdowns.
posted by DrGail at 10:08 AM on October 3, 2011

Interesting observation. I grew up in the triangle area(family of transplanted northerners) and never noticed this - well I noticed but just always assumed the cars were broken down and the owner would be coming back for it.

I do know that if there is a white cloth is in the window it means the car is broken down - not sure if that is a southern thing or not.
posted by fromageball at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2011

I moved to the Triangle in 2001, and I remember noticing a higher-than-normal number of abandoned cars on the side of the road, at least compared to where I came from (OH and VA) When my brother visited me a few years back, he commented on it as well.

Why? No idea.
posted by BurntHombre at 12:24 PM on October 3, 2011

Not an answer but a tiny datum:
This kind of thing is a problem in Maui, of all places, too. That link is to an article from 2005, which is about when I noticed it there.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:27 PM on October 3, 2011

I moved from the Northeast to the Triangle and noticed this phenomenon as well. I don't think its just confirmation bias on your part.

I also saw a lot of shoes at the side of roads/highways there. Always mysterious.
posted by slateyness at 7:27 PM on October 3, 2011

I don't know why, but I have heard the exact same question from another northerner. It's not a uniquely NC thing, it's a southern thing.

I moved to New Orleans this past February, and I've noticed it here, too. Pretty much every time I drive on the freeway, I see at least one abandoned car (and not the same one over and over). I hadn't heard the thing about the white shirt in the window, but thinking back, I believe I've seen that.

We also get the shoes, but the most striking (and particularly New Orleanian) highway detritus is bits of feather boas. Seriously, they're everywhere.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:16 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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