Hammer Time: Off The Beaten Path

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time off the beaten path

My family hates buying stuff at the big box stores. Mom and Pop’s, garage sales and thrift stores have always been the staples of good living for the Lang Gang. That’s not all. There’s a slaughterhouse a few hundred feet away from the county border where I get all my meat. A dozen neighborhood gardens offer an amazing variety of produce for the taking and trading. Heck, even my customers have offered everything from power generators to honey during tight times which I gladly accept. This is Georgia after all. When it comes to buying and selling all things automotive, I have also fond an awful lot of very unusual solutions. Namely…


A food salvage store. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these places… let me fill you in. This is where all the slow selling foods, damaged boxes of cereals, and cosmetically challenged cans and candies end up. Some offer recently expired goods that still have plenty of shelf-life left (think chocolate, juices, cereals, soups and coffee). Others will take a hundred damaged boxes of Celeste frozen pizzas and sell their contents for a dollar each. It’s a tightwad’s paradise and the deals don’t just end with food alone.

I can buy a lot of car care stuff there too. Yesterday I found four gallons of straight coolant for only $2.99 a pop. Throw in a $1 rebate for each gallon and a 50/50 remix, and I’ll end up with eight gallons for about a $1 a gallon. Oil is also available infrequently for 99 cents as are Armor All Wipes, Fix-A-Flat Cans, and an endless array of gas additives that I never put much equity in. So long as the contents meet the industry standards (ASTM and API respectively), I stock up and avoid the Corporate America mark-up. Thankfully the enthusiasts amongst us don’t have to survive on just the big box castoffs alone.

There’s also Freecycle. I don’t know about the rest of this country. But whenever the Yuppie du jour in metro-Atlanta buys a new car that offers free maintenance, a surprisingly large number of them will give up on their auto supplies. I almost always change the oils on the cars I buy at auction, and Freecycle alone has given me dozens of free quarts over the years. I’ve also found a perfectly good transmission, a few hundred dollars in tools, and even a nice collection of automotive memorabilia from the 1950’s. I’ve shared it all with my customers. A few of which are mobile mechanics and tradesmen of varying sorts. Then there are filters…

When the discount parts stores closes out on a name product, I try to buy it off IF there is a need. I recently bought a slew of Motorcraft oil for $1 a quart. The leftover store brand filters (Wix versions) went for only 95 cents a piece… and not only did I stock up, I took the oil filter catalog as well so I know which filter goes with what car. Now when one of the mobile mechanics goes to meet a client, he can take an ‘oil change kit’ for free and offer it to the customer for $20 to $25 along with their regular service.

That price is cheaper than Wal-Mart for the customer and pays dividends for everyone. The kit cost me $5. The mechanic makes $20 to $25 on the oil change and often gets a loyal customer. I get everything from mechanic help at the lot, to a slew of referrals from these mechanics. Everybody wins and the cost is negligible.

Finally there is the rebate game. A few years ago I could get hundreds of dollars of free stuff from the discount parts stores. But not anymore thanks to our debtful times. So what I do instead is visit a web site called “ Bob Is The Oil Guy“. All the latest promotions that are worth a flip are right there. Plus, if there’s any type of rebate or discount available you can easily find that at their forums as well to tie it all in.

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  • Crc Crc on Jun 29, 2010

    Steven - I knew I remembered reading about the coolant/salvage store somewhere. Didn't you post that at BITOG? ---- When Advanced Auto stopped selling the (Purolator)Total Grips I stocked up for $1 a piece. Cruising the mark down section at Walmart helps as well. I scored a 5 quart bottle of Quaker State synthetic for $7 that will be used for my next oil change.

  • Obbop Obbop on Jun 29, 2010

    Bob died awhile back. His wife took over the site with the mods doing much of the grunt work, I believe. Lots of good info, educated opinions, etc at BITOG

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.
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