Lowlife tip of the month ( one in a series) The Junkyard.

Nothing feels like spring to a recovering lowlife like myself as much as a trip to the junkyard. Even if you are not a gear head you can appreciate the Zen sort of feeling of rescuing some part…searching out some discarded vehicle…repairing something, bringing something back to life. OR you can just appreciate the economics of it…used parts are cheap. REAL CHEAP. Plenty of parts you may need are there that you don’t even have to be very handy to acquire. Anyone who has ever totaled a car or have it break down beyond repair will tell you they either just filled the gas tank, replace the battery or got new tires. So batteries and tires that are nearly brand new can be got at a junkyard for a fraction of what it would cost normally. When you are a lowlife this is a big deal.

Also…when you are trying to upgrade from lowlife but are still a cheap skate.

I have a LONG road trip and my tires are okay but not great. In previous trips I’ve had blowouts, run over nails, and even smacked a curb and got a flat tire. So, what’s the boy scout motto? “be prepared”. My spare tire is just one of those donuts that say on the side “temporary use only do not exceed 50 mph” and it looks like the previous owner put about 50,000 miles on this spare at one point or another… it is not going to do me much good If I get a flat in the middle of Missouri. In younger dumber days I would risk it to save money…and end up spending 200.00 on a tow and getting a tire replaced at some local hillbilly establishment were they raise the price by 50.00 once they figure out you have no choice but to pay whatever they ask for a new tire. The extra 50.00 will no doubt be used to buy a forged drivers license showing that the 16 year old runaway, that the owner is sweet on, is actually 21. Being slightly wiser I head to the junkyard to get a full sized tire and rim to have as a spare.

I have been to many many junkyards, an I love em. Like I say, it’s sort of Zen, and in a way it reminds of you of your place in the universe. Anyone who frequents junkyards gets a big belly laugh at all the environmental hand wringing that goes on in our culture. You can take a junk car, drop it in a lot, leaking antifreeze, battery acid, oil, rusting right into the ground, next to other junk cars doing the same thing..awful for the environment yes? Well, guess what, in 6 weeks there will be a birds nest in the engine compartment, raccoons living in the trunk and a tree growing under it sturdy enough to start tipping it to one side. Mother nature has no f*cks to give. If we all disappeared tomorrow in five years the land our cities are on would be once more covered in green and filled with animals, and the only species who would notice we are gone would be the cockroaches.


That’s what a Honda engine looks like half torn apart.  The circles are the pistons.  They are about the size of soda cans…this makes me sad, back when this country made real cars pistons were nearly the size of coffee cans.

It also makes me sad because the part that is missing is called the “cylinder Head”  and I could use one of those.

SO, here is what you need to know about junkyards. First they make a TON of money. They bring cash in hand over fist. Most pay about 200.00 for a junked car and get that back from the first person who needs a windshield. It’s 99% profit and that includes taxes and the normal business expenses. Most of the employees are working under the table ( cough.. illegal..cough) and I suspect they just might from time to time…on a rare occasion…forget to document all the sales they make. These guys are loaded. Did you spend 15 years in law school to reach the level where you could make 200.00 and hour? work and struggle afterwords for a partnership to earn six figures? well…to bad for you because that grease monkey is making six figures and all he had to do was get drunk with the owners son, and know enough about cars and Spanish to keep the import cars in the import section. Everyone there makes a lot of money..even the grunt at the register because he might accidentally sometimes…put the money in his pocket instead of the til. The workers…they might just accidentally take parts home and sell them to friends. You couldn’t print money as fast as it comes into a well stocked junkyard.

I tell you this so that you know how to get the best price on the parts/haggle. All the money that they make does not buy them one once of respect. Imagine being at a party with adults and having the “what do you do for a living” question come up. They get smirks, and are looked down on, and are assumed to be high school drop outs, they get laughed at buy college graduates who are 50,000 in debt, even thought THEY will make that much in cash in like 6 months. so when they are at work, and YOU are coming to them to buy a part, make no mistake they are the KING the GATEKEEPER and will be treated as such. All the crap they have to take in the outside world is pent-up and they sooth their egos by ruling with an iron fist…or just being douche bags. They are lazy, they don’t care if you have to wait forever, and they act like you are ruining their day by walking in to pay them. Haggling in its usual form leads to nothing. This is his kingdom and his parts are sacred and his decision will not be questioned. If you try to tell him it is worth less, or the condition isn’t as good as you were hoping or that someone else is cheaper… you have even odds of him taking the part back and telling you to piss off. Nothing would please him more than getting into an argument with you , taking the part and smashing it with a hammer while you watch. After all, he has parts and money…you just have money. Seriously…he is hoping he gets the chance to do this and release his pent up frustration. If you try to haggle you will annoy him and get overcharged or sent home with nothing. If you show him respect, and humility, you will… annoy him, but he’ll give you a good price so you leave quickly and he can take the next customer who may give him the drama he craves.

Be polite, dress like you have never been to a junkyard before- khaki pants, a nicer jacket but not too nice ( you want to look like a simpleton, not the guys who mocks him at a party), shoes that are in no way shape or form good for walking around sludge and metal shrapnel. This all tells him right off…that you may be coming to him with a lot of stupid questions…and need some extra guidance. He does NOT want that, but can’t justify being a dick to you, so any reasonable offer will be taken in hopes that you leave quickly. You don’t just want to surrender to his authority…you want to surrender so much that he fears he may have to take care you.

If he says 40.00, just feebly pull crumpled dollars out of your pocket and say “will you take 30.00?” …you look pathetic, and he’s busy and doesn’t feel like waiting for you to go back to your car and come back with all the change in your arm rest.  30.00 takes the part home.  It is important that you say “will you” this gives him power…if you ask “can you?” you are now implying he has to answer to some authority higher than himself.

Now then, the best junkyards, and they are fewer and fewer of these, are the ones that let you just walk around and take off the parts yourself. They are cheaper, and it’s more fun, AND you’ll be able to grab little odds and ends you needs, like say a switch or some piece of headlight trim…stuff you need but don’t know what it’s exactly called when you go to the auto parts store. They are few and far between because they are freakin’ dangerous and only stay in business because they have been grandfathered in under 50 year old laws. See this picture?

That tire half assed welded to another tire in all that is keeping a 85 Cadillac from falling and crushing you. You are literally risking your life to get a side panel 20.00 cheaper than new. Only a lowlife would do this…and lowlfies don’t have the time , money, or know how to sue if they get hurt. Plus they all know the deal going in. The way of the junkyard. this unspoken code even more so than the grandfathering in under old laws is how these junkyards manage to not get sued into oblivion. It is one of the last “gentleman’s agreements” that still exist in our culture. A certain type of person goes to a junkyard and that type lives by and protects this unwritten code…because it benefits him that these places stay in business…also if he had the forward thinking to break that code and sue…he wouldn’t be a lowlife going in to risk his life to save 20.00 in the first place.

NOW…when you go into one of these places, walk up to the counter and ask where in the lot you can find some BIG item…like a hood, or a drivers side door, or a passenger seat. Something he won’t believe you know how to get off. He will point you in the direction and his main concern will be having to call an ambulance. Why do you want his? so he’s not suspicious of you, stupid. If you ASK for a switch and you come out with nothing he’s going to want to check your pockets see. BUT if you ask for a car hood and come out with nothing he’s going to assume you couldn’t figure out how to get it off and laugh to himself while you leave with the switch. …get it? Now, I don’t actually condone just walking in a stealing crap, that’s out of line. BUT buying one item and filling your pockets with little odds and ends, that’s all just part of the way of the junkyard, like the peanuts at a bar. As I said, this guy made three grand before you walked in, do you think he gives a crap if you sneak out with a door handle? not really, as long as you buy something so you aren’t so belligerent as to be insulting and he has to actually deal with the situation most of them are going to not bother caring.

So I went in and found a decent tire….also found a radio antenna which I needed. these are items any moron can get out so the guy isn’t going to be concerned I manage to swipe anything good…like these switches to a cruise control unit.

see the other benefit of getting parts from junkyards like this is you can mangle up the car and break things on it while figuring out how to get things off…so when you install them on your car you know how to do it the right way. You learn for example there are three screws and some snap clips that pull straight out and not sideways. You can break off those clips learning this a on a junk car so you don’t break the ones on your car. cool eh? Also, there may be three different cruise control switches ( for example) listed for you model car and three different trips to the auto parts store figuring out which is right sucks. Better you just grab all three at the junkyard and keep the one that actually fits. I got three here. someone with less scruples might sell the two that don’t fit on ebay. I however will deposit them back where I found them…as no doubt some other lowlife may need them. Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints, or use all parts of the animal…or something like that…there’s some Indian saying that fits this.

The junkyard is also a nice place to go if you are tired of hearing English but want to be around a better crowd than at wal-mart. I often wish I understood more Spanish so I could hear what is being jabbered about me. I suspect it is one of two things, either “get a load of this gringo, that guy sure didn’t figure out how to use white privilege to his advantage” or ” for a gringo that guy sure knows where the expensive parts are and how to get them off and into his pocket in a hurry”…or…possibly even “watch this…he’s about to get bit in the face by a possum”. The Mexicans I run across often give me the stink eye and don’t know what to make of me, until I fill my pockets with fuses…then they know I know the ” way of the junk yard” and won’t be eyeballing them when they slide a piece of chrome trim down their pants. From time to time I have the heartwarming experience of me and them, even though we are unable to speak the same language, assisting each other on “acquiring” some part that needs an extra set of hands. It’s the brotherhood of man at it’s finest…the brotherhood of lowlife man. The of lowlife, I’ve only got 20.00 to keep my piece of crap car running, brotherhood of man.

Anyways I have my tire and a radio antenna so I won’t just have to listen to my brain churn up regret for the entire 8 hour drive this weekend.

Now then, I have the new antenna and by butchering the interior panels of the car in the junkyard, know how to get it in. The only tricky part is that the cord has to slide down through the windshield supports, past all sorts of other wiring, and snake under the dashboard to connect to the female end.

Just snaking it through via luck or skill is nigh impossible. So, what you do is tie a string to the end of the old one before you slide it out so the string is along the one correct path. then take it off the old antenna, tie it to the new one and pull the string from underneath the dash and it will pull the new one done through all the interior and wiring. Piece of cake.

One thing to make sure…and no one will tell you this…because you would have to be a complete moron not to figure this out on your own…make sure you tie the string to the cord that is attached to the antenna wire you are pulling out, and NOT the part that is plugged into the radio. Because otherwise you will pull out the old antenna…and it will have no string…the string will still be underneath the dashboard…teid to the part that doesn’t move. And you will be f*cked. You will be f*cked and has to stand there and realize you just did the dumbest thing imaginable.


Fortunalty I have some sturdy wire and tied a string to that and pushed that down from the top, and after much swearing and scraping my hand against the metal and plastic under the dashboard was able to grab that wire, tie a string to it and pull it up through the top and do the rest of the installation by the numbers.

So, after a scant total of 4 hours from when I got to the junkyard until the new antenna was installed, I can now listen to the radio…well, I can turn on the radio, get annoyed and turn it off. It’s cathartic anyway.

In case you were wondering. Cost of used Tire and rim, and antenna 25.50 cost of same items new 175.00. I remind myself of the savings everytime I wash my hands and scream as the soap gets into the two dozen tiny cuts and scratches on my hands.

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