Scrap-steel prices have been climbing like crazy in recent months, with the scrap price for junk cars reaching about $250/ton here in Colorado. That means that a lot of potential project cars that have spent decades in back yards and driveways, waiting to get back on the road, are now worth an easy 400 bucks at The Crusher. Armies of steel-crazed scavengers with car trailers and flatbed trucks have been scouring the countryside for unwanted— or, more accurately, insufficiently wanted— vehicles to turn into quick cash. I hit a local metal-recycling yard yesterday to see the frenzy for myself.
Back when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often commuted across the Bay on a ferry that docked across the Oakland Estuary from the Schnitzer Steel yard at the Port of Oakland. I knew the mountains of rusty steel were once cars that Schnitzer had on the yard at its chain of self-service wrecking yards (Schnitzer Steel owns the Pick-N-Pull chain), but it was impossible to recognize anything in those China-bound mountains of ex-car steel.
Things are more up close and personal when you visit The Crusher in person; here’s a fairly solid and complete Corvair that’s probably a cube of metal in a container in a train car, bound for the nearest container-ship port (Oakland, most likely), by the time you read this. Kind of a shame, but nobody was willing to buy it and fix it.
I was there with a friend who was disposing of the carcass of a wrecked Suburban he’d bought as a drivetrain donor for a project truck. Nobody’s going to shed any tears over the loss of a wrecked late-model Suburban, right? I know I won’t!
However, even my cold, cold heart felt a pang when I saw this rough-but-repairable Mercedes-Benz W126 coupe on the end of a chain, headed to certain death. How? Why? $250/ton, that’s why!
I couldn’t tell which SEC this was, but it’s a big German coupe with a V8, and— by the time you read this— it has been chewed up like so many Saturn SL2s and broken washing machines.
Another Malaise Era Ford bites the dust.
How about a Dodge Diplomat? Remember when all the cops drove these?
This BMW 7 Series has depreciated about as far as it’s possible to go.
Poor 4-door Bonneville. Nobody loves big 1960s sedans… until they put them on the scale and realize that they’re worth $500 in quick cash.
Late Fox Mustang GT with V8 and 5-speed? Crushed.
Woodgrain Late Malaise station wagon? Crushed.
The whole process happens fairly quickly. First you wait in a line of doomed cars on trailers and old pickups with beds full of brake drums and steel pipe.
The seller flashes the vehicle’s title, and a big forklift picks it up.
A guy with a pickaxe punches a couple of holes in the car’s gas tank and drains the gas into a series of 5-gallon buckets.
The flammable-liquid action never stops at this place!
Some of the gas seemed pretty fresh, and some of it had that bad-old-gas smell and dark color.
Apparently it was once possible to get drained gas from Crusher victims for free. These days, no dice.
This goes on all day, every day, all over the country. I was at this Crusher for about an hour and saw at least a half-dozen interesting cars get eaten. How many meet their demise every day? As long as China hungers for scrap steel, it will continue at this pace.