Why you should care
Because owning what you own is good business all around.
The poet Charles Bukowski said it best when he said it isn’t the big things that drive you mad. It’s the small things. Which is to say if your car gets totaled and no one dies, that fills up the box called “almost as bad as it gets.”
That is up to and until you start to lose the small things: a thermostat, a carburetor, a catalytic converter. Any one of these things, price-wise, is not enough to break the bank, but if you’re like most taking a break from a workweek to crawl around under your car? Not going to happen.
Which puts you at the mercy of the mechanic class. Who will, either by dint of expediency or greed, suggest just buying new. Of course, it has happened that what they buy new, they get wholesale, precisely because what you buy through them, you get for retail. So new parts, and then labor, and even if it’s a new car — which, sadly, is almost too sophisticated for the casual cranker to work on — it’s going to take time and cost (almost always more than you want to pay).
What to do, what to do?
Well, what does the smart money do? It heads off to the local salvage yard. Now, more than likely, called an automotive recycling yard or a wrecking yard, but always for us old-schoolers: a junkyard.
…[C]rawling around the innards of our discarded dreams you get more than parts lots of time…
Auto repair industry chain junkyards can be indispensable for keeping your wheels on the road if your car is as little as 5 years old. “The issue isn’t even how often should you go to a junkyard for what you need,” said Bill Pappas, whose Mo-Bill repair shop is ground zero for San Francisco Bay Area speed demons. “But how often your mechanic already goes there to get stuff you need.”
And while the layman might automatically assume that new equals better, the reality of it is, in car terms, often what’s best is what works best. Especially since there’s never any guarantee that new means better. The 502 cc engine rumbling under the hood of my Chevy muscle car came in a crate from GM with the wrong bolts in them. More than that, the repair documentation that came with the new engine also recommended the wrong bolts.
“We got GM to change their documentation,” says Danny Atkins, whose diligence uncovered the screw up. “But the bolts themselves? Junkyard.”
“Well, if you factor in what an engine overhaul would have cost when the car shredded the ‘new’ bolts?” laughed Atkins. “Lots.”
Depending on what your local junkyard is equipped for you can also call ahead, order what you need, leave a deposit and have them pull it for you. Or you can show up with your tool kit and wander out amid the detritus of our industrial heft and might to repurpose parts that are either off to some bulker as scrap metal, or destined to sit in the sunny expanse of the junkyard for, well, forever.
With your “new” part in hand, you can either install it yourself if you’ve got the smarts and the time, or take it to your shop and have them do it. Labor is still a charge you’ll have to pay, but you’re recycling and saving yourself a little scratch, aka cash.
“I’m preferring lots of older parts,” said Pappas. “I mean they made it this long, right?”
More right than wrong. Besides which crawling around the innards of our discarded dreams you get more than parts lots of time, as you discover odds and sods of lives also left behind: old photos, clothing, music, books, whatever people had in the cars when they and the cars had reached various points of no return.
“They’re good places to be, even if you’re not a car lover,” Pappas concludes. “But heaven if you are.”