Pulling parts from the dead
U-pull lots offer customers cut rate parts with a little sweat equity
Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 2:51 p.m.
When Julie and Craig McComas decided to fix up a family hand-me-down 1995 Dodge Neon for their teenage daughter in a tight economy, they chose to do the work themselves.
Like many do-it-yourselfers and professional mechanics, the McComases went to a u-pull salvage yard where patrons can remove or “pull” parts from any of several hundred cars on the sprawling grounds to cut parts costs with a little sweat equity.
“We were looking for a safe and economical car for Autumn to drive to the University of Florida and decided to refurbish a red Neon which had been in our family for years,” Julie McComas said.
Autumn,17, will head to UF in August.
“The Neon was my mom’s. It was brought here, taken to Michigan and then Tennessee, where we went to pick it up with a car dolly. Now we want to make it a gift to our daughter,” Julie McComas said.
Salvage yards can yield serviceable parts, many of which can otherwise be hard to find through factory dealers or aftermarket parts stores.
According to Popular Mechanics, auto salvage yards are “the last stop in the automotive life cycle.” Cars that are wrecked or old and inoperable can still yield valuable replacement parts at a fraction of the cost of obtaining parts from a manufacturer.
Mechanics and car tinkerers yank cylinder heads, lights, glass, body panels and suspension parts. All it takes is a few tools, some basic mechanical know-how and a checkbook.
Salvage yards usually charge a small entry fee in addition to the cost of any parts — typically a dollar. Some yards may offer a mechanic to remove items at an additional cost.
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The McComases hauled away two four-wheeled carts full of items for the Neon at Gavin’s U-Pull It in northwest Ocala.
“We have four rims and the struts plus brake rotors,” Julie Mc Comas said, pointing to the carts.
“I’ll check these rotors and have them turned if necessary,” Craig McComas said.
“We have about 900 cars from 1980s to 2005s on seven acres,” said Bill Muzzy, a manager at Gavin’s. “The cars come from people off the street, towing companies and auctions. We drain all the fluids and remove the batteries.”
Gavin’s U-Pull It co-manager Bobbi Strosahl said a wide array of parts are popular purchases at the yard.
“I see engine computers, alternators, starters, windshields, relays, even doors, hoods and truck beds go out,” Strosahl said.
Gavin’s U-Pull It customer Shamus Johnson,38, arrived at the yard last week to get a special heater part for his brother’s Buick Rendezvous.
“Here it may cost me $5, but at the dealer’s shop it would be about $30,” Johnson said. “... I do my car work and for my family and friends. I’ve replaced about 50 complete engines with ones from this yard,” he said.
Muzzy said prices on a complete engine — minus accessories like a power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, alternator and starter — are typically about $250, plus a core charge.
Accessories like a starter or alternator are about $15 plus a core charge and an a/c compressor is about $20 plus core, Muzzy said.
Engines and transmissions purchased at Gavin’s U-Pull It have a 30-day, exchange-only warranty; starters and alternators have a seven-day, exchange-only warranty. No cash refunds are given, Muzzy said.
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At Value Auto Parts near Belleview, owners Ronnie Harrell and Joe Adams oversee about 2,000 cars from a 1946 model to late model 2008s spread across about 20 acres. Cars are arranged in sections in the yard by manufacturer.
“This is the fourth u-pull I’ve operated in Florida,” said Adams, 60. “I’ve had yards in Lakeland, Tampa and Daytona Beach. At our yard, it’s about 50/50 customer pull or we pull.
“Theft (of mainly small items such as controls and knobs) can be a problem. Sometimes we check customers’ tool boxes. The small items can add up. If we call the police, we hear ‘Hey it’s a junkyard’ about what would be a criminal offense in a (retail) store.”
Adams and Harrell bought the yard about three years ago and have invested in new equipment, fencing and building upgrades to go along with what Adams estimated to be an inventory of about $800,000.
“(Marion County) seems to be a lower (sales) area for (u-pull) sales than Lakeland or Tampa, but in this economic time those other areas may be down, too,” Adams said.
Two sets of brothers were spending their Saturday afternoon recently pulling their own parts at Value Auto Parts.
“I need the motor out of this Saturn. My brother, Thomas, has a 1999 Saturn with a blown engine,” said Chris Brown, 36, as his brother surveyed the four-cylinder engine. “This way the engine will be cheaper and the yards will usually let you make sure the engine will spin.”.
Big Sun Auto Salvage south of Ocala offers u-pull or mechanic on-duty and complete car sales.
“We opened in 2005 and were the first u-pull in Marion County. I know it’s growing in popularity,” said Greg Boothby, owner of the five-acre, 350-car lot with model years ranging mostly from 1995 to 2003.
“We get about a 50/50 mix of professional mechanics and dealers along with do-it-yourselfers,” Boothby said.