End Of The Line: Welcome To The Crusher!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
end of the line welcome to the crusher

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 40 comments
  • Res Res on Mar 07, 2011

    Sad as it is to see (some of) these cars going to the crusher, this is an excellent example of Net Present Value (NPV) calculations "in action." In my college days, I was on first name basis with the guys at a local yard (the doberman liked me, too) where I scarfed up then-plentitudinous Vega parts. I remember stopping in toward the end of my Vega days for something or another, and being told that all the Vegas (and most of the Monzas) were being crushed and that I should grab what I wanted *that day*... My son and I are slowly restoring a '62 and '63 Beetle together, and most of the VW boneyards I've known over the years have dried up, too. They don't last forever...

  • -Nate -Nate on Dec 16, 2015

    12/15/2015 I just got linked to this old article . Sad to see the Corvair and others , I wonder if the Ford Pickup truck near the Corvair is one of those nifty unibody ones ? . I used to run a Junk Yard in the 1970's and most of my life has been spent sourcing parts from them an lamenting the greedy jerk who usually run them , jerks who'd rather crush @ .30 cents / pound then sell to you for $4 / pound as used parts.... I never had excess inventory , I got the cars in and broke them , sold off the parts as soon as anyone came in with ca$h . I made decent $ on the scrap too and that when it was (IIRC) 25 cents or so the pound . The truth remains : no one wants to pony up much $ for an old car and the parts sellers would rather gouge than meet you half way most of the time . -Nate

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?