Safety fears over abandoned cars Mussafah area of Abu Dhabi

The car-repair district of Mussafah is littered with the rusting hulks of unwanted vehicles, some of which were dumped more than a year ago.

One of the many abandoned cars that are both an eyesore and a hazard in Mussafah.
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ABU DHABI // Hundreds of abandoned cars in Mussafah are a threat to public safety, experts say. In an area known for its numerous car repair centres, among other industries, many vehicles have simply been left by the roadside. Some have been cannibalised for spare parts, while others have been badly damaged in accidents. All appear to have been eroded by the passage of time.
The hulks would not be an issue if they were collected "in the middle of nowhere", away from homes and businesses, said Afschin Soleimani, the associate director and fire engineer at the energy consultants Ramboll. But in a city on the outskirts of the capital, they were subject to vandalism, and constituted a hazard to nearby buildings in the event of a fire, he added. "Cars, including its fuel, could be set on fire, which could spread to an adjacent property," Mr Soleimani warned.
"Such fire would be even more of a concern if the car is placed near industrial areas, which could have combustibles placed outside the building." Fuel and other fluids left in the cars for too long would be harmful to the environment, Mr Soleimani added. Shopkeepers said the municipality had been more vigilant in recent months in getting rid of the vehicles. The municipality declined to comment, but one official confirmed that it had stepped up efforts to move the vehicles, especially where they created road congestion or were an eyesore.
"Many were taken away. We placed warnings on those cars which have plates on them," the official said. "If the car is taken away, the owner can still claim it in the municipality, but they have to pay a fine. They have to claim it soon, though, because it does not stay with us forever." Some of the cars in Mussafah last week had notices from the municipality warning that they would be towed within 24 hours if they were not removed by their owners. However, the notices were dated either January 26 or 31.
According to the law, a car left in a public parking area or on the road for more than 14 successive days will be removed. Car repair shop owners said the problem was made worse by smaller premises that did not have room to park cars inside to remove useful parts. They were using street space to strip down vehicles. On the street where one workshop is located, there are two dozen abandoned cars illegally parked on the left side of the road.
People working in other businesses on the block said there used to be at least three times more cars, but the municipality had towed most of them. A Ford Taurus with no plates sat near a junction. It was old and dusty, its front windows smashed and blackened. The inside was ruined. Most of the cars nearby were filled with sand and sported bald tyres, planted in centimetres of dust. Only few had plates.
A Range Rover with a Dubai plate and a municipality tow notice was parked in front of the workshop. Staff said a Lebanese man left the car eight months ago to be fixed. The exterior was unblemished. Inside sat a pile of laundry, including T-shirts, shirts and ties. Kifourk Siyufi, a 30-year-old mechanic from Syria, said his workshop fixed the car. The repairs cost more than Dh6,000 (US$1,600). Mr Siyufi estimated the car to be worth Dh10,000.
"At the beginning, he said he would come back and pay the money the following week. Then he started to buy time and finally stopped picking up his mobile," said Mr Siyufi. The municipality would still fine the workshop, as much as Dh10,000, no matter who the car belonged to, said Mr Siyufi. Under the law, workshops that buy cars for parts are required to have a place inside their workshop for the vehicles or park them in an organised way.
Shops must send the cars to be scrapped at factories, which also will buy the vehicles directly from their owners for a few hundred dirhams. Scrapped cars are then sent to Sharjah for recycling. Handling scrap in an ad hoc manner was dangerous, experts said. Not far away from Mr Siyufi's workshop, a four-litre can, one-third full of engine oil, sat in a dilapidated car. Freddy Lama, a mechanical engineer at Nova electromechanical contracting company, said it was "rare" for a car to catch fire on its own. The main concern should be the city's image, he added.
But Mr Lama said materials inside cars could be harmful. Their disposal needed to be done by professionals who knew how to remove batteries, fuel and any chemicals before scrapping it, he said. Dr Wael Khalil, an associate in Ramboll's environmental department, said cars being left for so long could result in sewers being blocked and water contaminated. "Abandoned vehicles contain various types of refuse, hazardous material such as fuel, and debris," said Dr Khalil.
"In addition, the cars are, most of the time, filled with additional waste before the dumping occurs. This makes it more difficult to trace the source or to determine the type of waste. "In most cases, these cars are stripped of the parts which can be sold or reused in other vehicles. Therefore, community residents should take extra care and report abandoned cars directly to the authority to take the necessary action."
Abu Khalid, a 34-year-old Sudanese mechanic, said the bulk of the problem lay with car owners, not repair shops. Most people abandoned them because they did not think they were worth repairing, he said. "Some have already been compensated by their insurance company - they do not need to take it away, it is the company's responsibility," said Mr Khalid. He pointed to a car in front of his shop that had been there for more than a year.
Mr Khalid said since police began issuing fines over cars contributing to road congestion, people started to remove their plates. "They keep the plate in their house until they get enough money to fix their cars." For Abdul Rahim, 32, a Bangladeshi mechanic for Trust Repair Workshop, the Nissan Titan near the workshop summed up the problem. A man had parked the car there and said he would return to Mussafah to collect it.
"Last week, the municipality came and we called him to see if he still wanted his car," Mr Rahim said. "He told us he does not want it."