Hammer Time: Junk Cars

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time junk cars

I have three junk cars at the moment. The first is the world renowned 1997 Oldsmobile Achieva with a front end uglier than Mike Tyson after his last ‘comeback’ fight.. It came standard with 300 pounds of GM parts bin plastic in it’s heyday, and an oil burning 2.4 Liter engine that rarely ever sees 200k. Like most cars conceived during the Smith and Stempel era, along with the Cavalier and Lumina that now accompany it near a shady tree, the car was well past it’s prime before it ever left the factory floor.

The owner didn’t do it any favors thanks to an incredibly long list of body bashes and indescribably strange contusions on nearly every body panel. Given the shredded headliner and steering wheel bite marks, I’m not quite sure if the car’s last owner was even human. Maybe it was owned by Marv Albert… or one of his recent girlfriends? Anyway the engine, tranny, and most of the parts are still perfectly functional. Which is great because I have several Grand Am’s on the road right now that will eventually need most of the same GM parts. If one of them needs an expensive component between now and the inevitable, the $200 I paid for it will be absolute peanuts. In fact forget cheap. Try free. I can already crush it for $200.

Welcome to the wonderful world of parts cars. An industry that would be easy to ridicule. Except for the fact that 10+ million crushed remnants are now among our top ten exports to China at the moment. Junkers to me represent the ultimate in frugality. Millions of these vehicles are sold to thousands of millionaires. Who then sell billions of these components to virtually every country on Earth.

Money may talk. But apparently you can’t walk through any junkyard without kicking, pulling or crushing a part that’s worth something to someone. Whether it’s some poor European soul who has an unexplained fetish for a Town Car. Or a Mk IV Jetta owner in the States who has to replace the window regulators for the fifth time. A parts car is often the only thing separating the working class folks from financial hardship and 90+ degree heat without air conditioning. Through use and re-use, these junk cars can indeed add more value to the Western way of life than most prime ministers and presidents.

I know most of you would rather not keep a ‘spare’ in the backyard. But what if you happen to own an unreliable and endearing piece of junk? What if you bought something that is truly rare? Or better yet… something valuable? Why you may need to buy an alternator in due time… or a compressor… or seats that no longer show the indelible contours of your rear end. All these parts can be incredibly expensive. $200. $300. If you drive a car with serious snob appeal, you may be looking at near four figures. Wouldn’t a parts car in your neighborhood be the perfect piece of outdoor art given these lofty numbers?

Thankfully there’s an easy alternative to that. The junkyard is one place. But also, the you-pull-it places are rapidly becoming a treasure trove for the ‘keeper’ looking for parts salvation. Want a tranny? If you’re willing to take it out yourself you can get it for less than $100. An engine? About $150 for most cars. Compressors and Alternators? $20. Some used interior pieces can cost less than a happy meal which is great… because the price for a new one from the dealer parts counter will likely cost 20 times as much. Between my own shady tree companions and a few well chosen you-pulls, I’ve easily saved over a thousand bucks in the last few months alone. But in the car dealer world, parts cars are just a more affordable cost of doing business. Is it right for you? Yes, no… maybe so.

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2 of 39 comments
  • BigOldChryslers BigOldChryslers on Aug 11, 2010

    When you own 40+ year old cars without a lot of aftermarket repop support, a good parts car can be a lifesaver. I'm lucky enough that a friend of mine has a farm and has turned one of his fields into his own wrecking yard. If I can get it out there, he's okay with me storing the occasional parts car in his field. My first VW Rabbit became a parts car for my 2nd Rabbit. My GMC van became a parts truck for my dad's Suburban (both 6.2L diesels). Then I bought a 1973 Chrysler New Yorker because I wanted to swap the disc brake system into my 66. Then I acquired two 1966 Chrysler sedans, both had spent most of their life down south so the bodies were very good. If I had had both of those at the same time, I would've had enough parts to restore one of them except: front and rear glass, and a transmission.

  • John Doyle John Doyle on Nov 09, 2011

    Nice Stuff. Its worth use when you have the cars like more than 30 to 40 years. Its always needed to pull them to some pick a part or junkyard. There are people with so many set up in junkyard.I feel the good one in my area is nevada pick a part with airheads. http://www.nvpicapart.com/.

  • 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.