You'd better watch out. Be careful where you park. Petaluma police have made a list of "abandoned" vehicles, and they're checking it twice.

For the past week the Petaluma Police Department has been conducting a sweep of the city, searching for vehicles that are obviously abandoned, or considerably overdue for registration or parking ticket compliance.

Last Wednesday, Nov. 28, officers cited 85 vehicles for expired registrations and left 132 courtesy notices on windshields of vehicles that were parked illegally on the public street, according to Lt. Tim Lyons, who is in charge of the operation.

They also towed five vehicles — one for an expired registration that was six years old and four because the owners had five or more unpaid parking tickets.

Beginning last Saturday, officers paid a second visit to the vehicles with courtesy notices and, as of Monday morning, Lyons said, all of the owners had complied. This return inspection was expected to continue until Wednesday, Dec. 5.

According to Lyons, police respond to about 100 individual complaints of abandoned vehicles every month.

And once or twice a year officers fan out around Petaluma, seeking to remove the most egregious violations from the public streets and give the owners of other vehicles an opportunity to do the right thing. The last big abandoned car search was in July.

Sometimes callers complain about vehicles being repaired on the street.

"You can work on your vehicle on private property, or in a garage, or send it to a professional who has equipment to deal with the leaking fluids, but you're not supposed to be doing engine work on the public street," Lyons said.

According to Lyons, about 10 percent of the vehicles cited or served with notices last Wednesday had out of town registrations and 25 percent were parked in a different part of town than their owners' registered address. And about 10 percent of them appeared to be inoperable.

But, determining if a car is broken down or just in the wrong place is "the hard part," according to Lyons.

Aside from the obvious — cars with four flat tires, missing parts or grass growing under the chassis and months of unswept dirt and leaves, it's difficult to tell if a vehicle is operational or not, he said.

(Contact Lois Pearlman at