Driving north on the Cross Island Parkway, it’s easy to pass Exit 14, which leads to an entrance to Belmont Park whose gates are locked most of the year. But drivers who have passed the exit since Hurricane Sandy hit may have noticed that the gates now stand open from time to time, as tow trucks deliver
vehicles damaged beyond repair by the widespread flooding.
Belmont’s south parking lot has been leased by Insurance Auto Auction, one of the largest salvage auto auction companies in the country headquartered in Illinois. IAA has rights to the lot until the end of April, when racing season is scheduled to restart, New York Racing Association spokeswoman Ashley Herriman said. NYRA also occasionally leases sections of Belmont’s parking lots to car dealerships looking to store new vehicles.
IAA has 11 locations in New York and New Jersey, but because of the sheer number of storm-damaged vehicles, it secured additional satellite locations like the one at Belmont. Those numbers are unprecedented, said the company’s vice president of marketing, Jeanene O’Brien. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it is likely that approximately 230,000 vehicles were damaged in some form by Sandy, though the final tally won’t be known for months.
The journey for a car damaged by the hurricane was not a short one. First, its owner had to file a claim with his or her insurance company. The car then had to be assessed and deemed irreparable before its owner could have it towed away. Various tow truck companies — including some from out of state — were tasked with removing the vehicles from local streets. IAA provided a number of tow truck companies for local municipalities and insurance companies to use, O’Brien said.
After a car was picked up by a tow truck, which could take weeks, it was delivered to IAA locations like Belmont. All of the cars claimed by IAA are from Long Island, Manhattan and New Jersey.
Once in IAA’s hands, the cars are put up for auction. “The cars are processed for auction via our live and live-online auction platforms,” O’Brien explained. “Many of the vehicles we sell at our auctions are bought by recyclers, rebuilders or dismantlers and other such organizations for parts.”
The south lot at Belmont provides IAA with 10 acres of paved storage space, Herriman said, which can accommodate up to 3,250 vehicles. Fortunately, the turnover of cars is rapid, O’Brien said: As soon as a car is auctioned off, a tow truck transports it to its new owner.