Cars litter Hawaii, quite literally. When visiting the islands you’re likely to see abandoned cars on the road, in fields, in ditches, and sometimes even ablaze.
Hawaii is full of transplants that ship their vehicles from the mainland — including myself. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of how a transplant lived out of their car for “x” number of days/weeks/months upon their arrival in Hawaii. It’s a lifeboat, and practically a right of passage when moving to the islands. As time passes, the vehicle gets older and depreciates. After some years, it’s affectionately referred to as an “island beater.” Island beaters are full of sand, salt, rust and used to transport surfers, boards and wet dogs from one remote surf spot to another. Hence the name, they take a beating.
Whether it’s after 2 years or 20 years, the vast majority of Hawaii transplants eventually leave. When a transplant leaves Hawaii, it’s often economically infeasible to bring their island beater back to the mainland. Ideally, they would sell it before leaving, but that’s easier said than done.
Selling a car requires 3 documents — a registration, safety inspection and title. Acquiring and keeping these documents up to date is difficult, expensive and time consuming. Obviously, it shouldn’t be. However, it’s easier to paddle the Molokai channel than deal with the Hawaii DMV.
Most states make it easy to register your vehicle. They go out of their way to inform you that it’s time to renew. Hawaii is too laid back for that. They don’t tell you Jack Schitt. Since there is no passage of time here, only endless sunsets and sunrises, remembering to register a vehicle tends to slip the mind. Hawaii is Neverland after all, and Neverland makes you forget.
The cops couldn’t care less about registrations. I have friends that have gone years without renewing, and never received a ticket. Especially since Taguma retired from the force. In the unlikely scenario that you actually do receive a ticket, the fine is around $100. When compared to the absurd $300 yearly cost of renewing a vehicle registration, most locals take their chances with tickets.
However, after a few years of failing to renew the registration on your island beater, a decision to move from the islands can leave you with $1,000 worth of registration renewal fees. Of course, this could all have been avoided by setting an annual reminder, but moving to Hawaii isn’t about responsibility.
Safety inspections are mandatory in Hawaii. When a vehicle registration is out of date, the safety inspection probably is as well. Now it’s time to play ping pong with the DMV and a safety inspector. You can’t get a registration renewed without a valid safety inspection, and you can’t get a safety inspection without an up to date registration. WTF!
Getting a safety inspection for an island beater is always risky. You pay a cool $15 for the inspection on the hope and prayer of getting that damn little sticker to slap on your red dirt covered bumper. However, the $15 inspection cost is like paying a dentist for an exam — they’re probably going to find something wrong. Safety inspections are performed by mechanics, and mechanics make money off repairs — not inspections. So, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to be replacing tires, fan belts, fluids or something else on your car that costs a lot more than 15 buckaroos.
Acquiring Your Title
I’m willing to consider my situation might be an exception to the norm when trying to obtain a title. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…
My vehicle has been paid off for over 5 years. I need the title to sell my vehicle. Honda never released it to me. Months of going back and forth with the DMV and Honda — using fax machines. Who the hell still uses fax machines? I don’t know how to operate those archaic pieces of technology. You might as well hand me an abacus. Anyway, the DMV informs me that I need to renew my registration. I try to renew at the DMV, but need a safety inspection. The safety inspector won’t pass my preliminary inspection without all new tires. A thousand buckaroos, gone. With my new tires, I get a temporary a inspection card that lasts 30 days. I take that to the DMV, and I’m finally able to renew my registration. Another $300 dollars, gone. I go back to the safety inspector for my final inspection. He can’t pass the inspection — again. This time because my insurance card from Allstate has expired — literally, the day before! I go to the nearest Allstate office and have them provide me with a temporary card. I take it back to the inspector. I finally get that damn sticker! I think I’m golden. I’m finally gonna get that title! I go back to the DMV, for the hundredth time. They know me there. I’m told Honda only signed a form that they needed to notarize. Now, I’m waiting on the Honda Finance Corporation to mail the final document I need to obtain my title… maybe.
That’s right! Countless hours wasted, endless trips to the DMV and buttloads of money spent on a vehicle that ironically runs great! All that, and I still don’t have the title. Somebody, shoot me in the head! Maybe it’s just me, but there are few things I hate less than waiting in lines at government offices and filling out nonsensical forms. </rant>
If you can sympathize, it’s not a giant leap of the imagination to see why so many people in Hawaii ditch their car.
Should the required documents to sell your vehicle be out of hand, you’re faced with a dilemma. Spend weeks, maybe months getting your documents in order, and potentially thousands of dollars in fees and repairs on an island beater that’s only worth a few thousand. Or, ditch that sucker in a field, light a match and buy a one-way ticket to the mainland. If I had it to do all over again, I might just put my car in neutral and push it right off the Pali.
I thought about donating the car to the Maui Humane Society or a food drive organization. Think again! You can’t even give away a car without a title!
So, that’s my theory as to why there are so many abandoned cars in Hawaii. I think it’s a sound theory. It’s obviously a problem. Maybe the root of the problem is that there are too many haole transplants like myself in Hawaii. I’m entirely capable of admitting that, but I’m not burning my car yet. I’m sure the state spends thousands upon thousands of dollars towing and disposing of these vehicles. So here’s a kind request to Governor Ige, please make it a little easier and less expensive to renew a vehicle registration. I’m sure it would be greatly appreciated by all Hawaii residents.