Editorial: Confronting the BOF Massacre, Part One

by J.Emerson
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editorial confronting the bof massacre part one

In the oil-stained industrial district of a hardscrabble Georgia town, the sun beats down on a graveyard of wretched excess. Row after row of partially-stripped hulks drip planet-poisoning fluids on the orange clay, their remains picked over by a motley crew of opportunists. Scores of full-sized sport utility vehicles are ripe for scavengers, their bloated corpses dismembered for whatever might still be of use. What’s killing off the full-framed SUVs?

There are the usual suspects, of course; the kinds of wear and tear that land vehicles of all types in junkyards. Accidents have claimed more than a few. Insurance stickers are often pasted to windshields, and crash damage is readily apparent. The warped sheet metal of the Suburban above is a telltale sign.

Mechanical issues are another reason these trucks get junked, even though the drivetrains tend to be fairly stout. Transmissions are a frequent Achilles’ heel. The extra load of an SUV body, neglect, and the “What’s a transmission cooler?” school of towing philosophy contribute to burnout. The employees of this yard write useful information on the glass of the heaps to aid shoppers: “Runs good,” “Trans bad,” “Motor good,” etc. The (hopefully working) transmission of this Explorer Sport lives on in another Ford product, somewhere.

Still others are claimed by plain old attrition. This five-speed Rodeo rang up mileage well into the six digits before winding up here. The earliest Explorers are more than two decades old now. Even long-lived Toyota products bite the dust eventually. The one 4Runner I saw in the yard was so gutted that its remains were basically unrecognizable. Xterras are also starting to hit the self-service yards, usually without a single straight body panel remaining. I saw two on my last trip, both of which had fallen prey rabid junkyard scavengers in short order.

The typical explanations aren’t enough, though, to explain why so many fairly clean trucks are hitting in the yards. Most of the odometers were in the low 100s, with bodies and interiors easily worthy of used-car retailers. A decent number of them are less than ten years old, and those aren’t the accident victims. Even after the great SUV purge of Cash for Clunkers, in which the Explorer claimed the #1 spot for vehicle trade-ins, there seems to be an endless supply of BOF SUVs flowing into the yards. I gave up counting after I reached four dozen in my last trip, and this was in a relatively small self-service yard in a medium-sized urban area. Where are they coming from?

The words scrawled on the windows are the key. Two magic ones in particular: title pawn. The last and most desperate source of cash for those living on the edge, especially in the South. These trucks have reached the very bottom of the ownership cycle. When their owners are up against the wall financially, they turn to one of the few entities that will provide them ready cash. The offer is tantalizing: give us your title, and we give you a loan. You get to keep the car, at least until you miss a payment and the repo man comes a-calling. Trucks filled with personal possessions and other detritus attest to the sudden parting of vehicle and ex-owner. Looking for owner’s manuals to add to my collection, I swing open the door of a not-particularly-battered Mountaineer (the windshield damage is from the junkyard forklift) with the telltale words scrawled on the side windows. There are clothes everywhere, as well as random paperwork and bills. A smiling toddler looks at me from a photo glued to the dash. This is what life on the edge looks like.

The title pawn companies can’t offload these SUVs fast enough. They get run through auctions, but only the most perfect or desirable examples wind up with used-car places. Otherwise, they go to the yards; scrap prices make them an attractive commodity. It doesn’t matter if they still run and drive perfectly fine. Practically nobody wants an eight-seat behemoth that gets mileage in the low teens on a good day. Cash-strapped large families, the odd contractor, and the desperate are about the only people willing to take on a ten-year-old BOF SUV. This produces the irony of very poor people driving very inefficient status symbols that retailed for well over twice the Federal poverty line not that many years ago. I find another SUV, a Suburban this time. Lots of papers again, including a partially-filled-in kids coloring book in Spanish. I wonder if the pawn companies will let people collect their personal possessions after the car is taken away. I imagine that a lot of people are probably too embarrassed to show up; it’s not like they have a car to get there now anyway.

What people do want, though, is pickup trucks. A running pickup will virtually always have a minimum value above scrap, especially in semirural areas like this part of Georgia. This is attested to by the relative lack of pickups in the yards, compared to SUVs. Only the most clapped-out pickups are sold for scrap; they have to become well and truly useless before they’re discarded. The SUVs in these yards are the most valuable resource available for keeping those pickups on the road. Expeditions, Explorers, Suburbans and Tahoes are raided to keep F-Series, Rangers, Silveradoes and Sierras going. That explains why so many SUVs have their perfectly serviceable mechanical guts yanked in short order, as well as any straight body panels.

As I watch two men yank a radiator out of an Explorer, I realize I’m watching my childhood get disassembled. I’m not sad. At least something useful is finally coming out of the SUV craze. The yuppies in their E30s and Civics probably felt something similar when their parents’ LTDs and Caprices were hauled off to the junkyard. Even so, nobody has really tried to explain how the SUV boom affected Millennials’ outlook on the automobile in general. That I’ll save for part two.


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  • Armadamaster Armadamaster on Jun 03, 2014

    Mexico. They are hauling these things down to Mexico every weekend like mad tow bar by tow bar. Probably bring top dollar on the miserable roads down there.

  • Tylerh860 Tylerh860 on Jun 14, 2014

    Ok, ready to tear this one apart. I own a small car dealership in the Midwest. Around here, the quality full size SUVs outnumber the new ones because they are outright cheaper to own. In 2000, a new, normal equipped Chevy Suburban set you back about $35k. Now they are $52k. Average income for the middle class has gone down , leaving people little choice other than to buy used, which drives up the prices of used cars. The 4.6 Fords and 5.3, 5.7, 6.0 Chevys easily get 300k on the original drivetrain with minimal care. Anybody can fix them, parts are cheap and plentiful. The same cannot be said for most vehicles made in the last 5 years. The gas mileage advantage of a newer tech SUV does not make up for the high repair costs. Every make has its own special computer needed for simple diagnostics. Mercedes has lead the way with this, many dealer franchises doubling their labor rate to absorb the costs of all the special equipment needed. Having a monopoly has alot to do with it as well. Parts prices for anything other than normal maintenance have gotten downright ridiculous. Because of this, there is absolutely NO way I see myself still in business in 10 years. I'm already taking regular punches in the gut having to pay for labor at the MB or BMW dealer for a simple diagnosis or reset after my competent mechanic wastes a day trying to figure something out but lacks the tools. Did you know on a Mercedes W211 that you have to reset the AC pressure switch every time you evacuate and recharge the system, and only the STAR (mercedes diagnostic) computer can reset it? I sure didn't. My poor mechanic wasted hours trying to figure out why the AC wouldn't come back on. $140 later (1 hr billed) for 5 minutes worth of plugging the computer in and hitting reset on a tech making $20 an hour and I'm back in business. Sure I can buy a STAR used or a Chinese copy for $1000, but how long will that last without trouble? How will I update it? This is not just Mercedes, even Chrysler and Chevy dealers need six figures worth of special tools and equipment to properly repair their vehicles. When GM and Chrysler dealers' franchises were terminated during the bankruptcies, terminated dealers struggled to sell off these special tools. Tools which they went deep into debt to purchase to provide competent service to their customers. They were never offered a refund for this equipment. The vehicles photographed in this article are mostly junk. Old 4.0 V6 Ford explorers and their Mercury equivalents drove like crap when new. Rodeos/Passports (same vehicle) were junk when new. Expeditions with the 5.4 liked to shoot out their spark plugs, stripping the threads in the head, after an amateur tune up. The only 2000-newer suburban photographed was wrecked. The older Suburban looks to have its engine living on in another. The cash for car title cars are almost always junk. These people have horrible credit and their vehicle is on its last legs. They drive it down there for the $1000 loan they can get and have no intention to pay. Their credit is already trashed so what's one more collection? "Practically nobody wants an eight-seat behemoth that gets mileage in the low teens on a good day" Complete and utter BS. I sell at least 5 a month to all walks of life.... it's only that low because because I can only get my hands on a few at a time.

  • Analoggrotto Buyers are skipping these in droves and heading down to sign the golden paperwork for a new Telluride. ATPs speak volumes and we have 'em. Our customers are telling us that we offer Mercedes quality for a better deal, and our suite of luxury features rivals any luxury automaker. Insult me all you want, but AVMs, DSDs and BSODs tell the truth.
  • Ted Lulis The Exodus from California is mind-boggling. No surprise from the rectum of the country
  • Mr Imperial Seeing the adjusted-for-inflation amount always makes me sick, I can't believe how much it has gone up in my 40-some-odd trips around the sun. Still fondly remember seeing these and Ford Explorers everywhere.
  • Kyl65759578 👋
  • ToolGuy I appreciate the thoughtful comments from the little people here, and I would like to remind everyone that Ford Motor Company offers a full range of vehicles which are ideal for any driving environment including New York City. The size and weight our of product portfolio has been fully and completely optimized to be friendly to the planet and friendly to pedestrians while consuming the bare minimum of resources from our precious planet (I am of course a lifelong environmentalist). Plus, our performance models will help you move forward and upward by conquering obstacles and limits such as congestion and your fellow humans more quickly at a higher rate of speed. I invite you to learn more at our website.Signed, William Clay Ford Jr.