At the post office yesterday, a young couple dropped off a cart of 40 to 50 packages, some large, others small, some just in envelopes. They were well-known to the postmistress, and the packages were pre-paid and went immediately to the back.
Turns out the couple runs a used auto parts business, selling on eBay. I recently came to use such a service. My wife’s twenty year old Jeep Grand Cherokee needed a climate control unit, and my mechanic said that this part was no longer being made. He recommended I go to a local salvage yard and scavenge for it. This I did.
What a delight! Pay $1 to get in, then start searching. There were lots of people there, mostly young men with tools, disassembling parts from the fields of ravaged autos. It seemed like a hoard of ants in the grass carrying away crumbs of bread. Slowly and steadily cars were being disassembled for useful parts. The place had a strong odor of oil, the cars were on blocks, and there was a sense of urgency about the quest.
The online database gave me seven locations of where to look. The first six Jeep Grand Cherokees I found of the right vintage were missing my key part—a sign that others were in my same predicament. The last Jeep I encountered had the part!
The only problem was, I hadn’t brought along any tools to extract it. Luckily, I was able to find a man and his girlfriend working nearby (removing a transmission from a Dodge van), and for $10 (which I discovered was the going rate), got their help to remove my part. For a total of $30, I got a part that, had it been new, would likely have cost ten times that much.
Of course, the rest of the story is that the part never worked, and I had to take it back for a refund. I was out $10 and my time.
My next recourse was eBay, where I found the used part for about $50. This one worked.
The moral in this story is the hard work and enterprising nature of many people who scavenge our junkyards to help reuse parts that otherwise would be lost to the crusher. The salvage yard was staffed with courteous and knowledgeable people, who backed their products with a 30-day warrantee. Because of their hard work, the environment is cleaner, jobs are created, and consumers get value for their money.
On the flip side, one could argue that we should build cars to last 500K miles, not just to throw them away after 100K. I buy that argument, but technological advances in safety are hard to retrofit into older cars. The best thing one can do to upgrade the safety of an old car is to buy good tires, since that new technology is easily transferred. [See these tires, for example, that I recently put on my 11-year old car, with helpful advice from Consumer Reports.]