Salvage dealers brace for rush of 'clunkers'

Monday, August 31, 2009 | 8:52 p.m. CDT; updated 11:55 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 31, 2009
Zach Boots cuts through the trunk of a Cash for Clunkers SUV at Sorrels Auto salvage yard on Thursday. Some of the parts he cuts from cars end up being used as material for schools that teach body work.


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COLUMBIA — Wearing a cutoff T-shirt that reveals tattoos on both arms, 23-year-old Zach Boots reaches into the front of a 2002 Chrysler Sebring and pulls out a handful of cables.

“Most mechanics have to be very careful when they work on a car,” Boots said. “But I can just rip it apart as long as I don’t break the part I’m trying to get at. I love it.”

Boots, who built the engine of his first car when he was 16, now earns a living tearing them apart. The dismantler for Sorrels Auto and Truck in Columbia is about to get busy.

Sorrels and other automotive recycling businesses are on the receiving end of the federal Cash for Clunkers program. The program, which ended last week, provided rebates on trade-ins of used vehicles for new vehicles that are more fuel efficient.

With thousands of used vehicles filling lots across the country, salvage dealers are preparing for the rush.

So far, local salvage yards have only received a fraction of the vehicles they are expecting to process as dealers wait for the government reimbursements.

“The dealerships aren’t going to let go of them until they are compensated by the government,” Mitchell Sorrels, owner of Sorrels, said.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation show that $61 million in vouchers have been requested in Missouri. But Gary Drewing, president of Joe Machens dealerships in Columbia, said on Monday that his dealership has been compensated for 38 of 375 claims.

Drewing said he didn't know when the money will come. "We have no idea," he said.

The Machens dealership is storing some of its vehicles waiting to be towed and recycled in a lot at the defunct Old Chicago restaurant on I-70 Drive Southwest. Walking around the lot, it’s easy to identify typical clunkers. But some vehicles, with new leather and shiny exteriors, don’t seem to fit in.

Chad Slate, manager of A-1 Auto Recyclers in Columbia, said some of the vehicles he has received from dealerships such as Bob McCosh Chevrolet, Albert Buick GMC and University Chrysler are also in better condition than the vehicles that usually come to his business.

 “There’s a few that I would consider to be clunkers, but most of them are nicer,” Slate said. “In all honesty, they should have gone to the used car market. They have a lot of life left in them.”

Once the vehicles are turned over for salvage, those businesses have 180 days to gather parts, excluding the engine, for resale before the vehicles must be crushed.

Under the clunkers program, Slate said, dealers are required to disable the engine by giving it a lethal injection of a sodium silicate solution.

“Prior engine disablement reduces the likelihood that a trade-in vehicle will be returned to use as an on-road automobile,” stated the Department of Transportation in a release.

“I think its kind of stupid they have to blow up a perfectly good engine that we could sell,” Boots said.

Salvage yards are also forbidden from selling a vehicle's drivetrain unless the parts are sold separately.

Once all of the cars are delivered, the salvage yards must work efficiently to meet the 180-day deadline.

Yancey Auto in Perry, which sells new and used parts at a store in Parkade Plaza, expects to handle 500 to 600 vehicles traded in under the program.

“We process, on average, 50 cars a week without the program,” Jason Yancey of Yancey Auto said. "This will be a lot of added work.”

Sorrels, which by Monday had received 19 of an anticipated 150 to 175 vehicles, is also gearing up.

Boots, who can usually dismantle a car in half a day’s work, expects to pick up extra shifts. “But it’s worth it," he said. "I get paid hourly.”

He has his own system for tearing down a car.

The first order of business is draining any parts with fluids so he doesn't make a mess, he said. From there he removes the radiator and air-conditioning condenser — they're made of aluminum and easily damaged — before taking off whatever parts he can reach with his hands. Wires and hoses are next, followed by the engine and transmission, which he said are the most difficult.

Although the value of a car’s parts varies depending on its make and condition, Boots said automotive recyclers will probably get the most money from the clunkers’ transmissions.

Yancey Auto looks forward to the surplus of parts about to come its way.

“Clunkers gives us a lot of the parts that we wouldn’t have already had,” Dean Yancey said. “We’ve got more of a mix now — new and old.”

While the parts and the scrap metal will boost business in the short run, some salvage dealers worry about the program’s future implications.

“The more used cars they take off the road, the less need for people like us,” Sorrels said.

“They were trying to boost the new car market, which is great,” added Corrie Sorrels, Mitchell's wife and Sorrels Auto bookkeeper. “But in the long run it hurts the used car market, which eventually hurts salvage yards.”

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John Schultz August 31, 2009 | 10:00 p.m.

Isn't it amazing how Chad Slates and Zach Boots know more about the salvage business than Obama and our other auto overlords in Washington D.C.?

“There’s a few that I would consider to be clunkers, but most of them are nicer,” Slate said. “In all honesty, they should have gone to the used car market. They have a lot of life left in them.”

“I think its kind of stupid they have to blow up a perfectly good engine that we could sell,” Boots said.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 31, 2009 | 10:25 p.m.

Why would Obama want these decent, driveable cars removed from the used car inventory realm at this point in time?
Who does this action hurt the most and who stands to benefit the most?
Will we be treating our elderly, our sick and our disabled the same way if HC 3200 gets passed?
When do we start parting out people?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 1, 2009 | 3:08 a.m.

ray shapiro yu are 20 years or more behind the times as people have been parted out now for along time. Just mark the Organ Donation spot on the back of your DL.

(Report Comment)
joe withheld September 1, 2009 | 7:31 a.m.

C4C succeeded in creating 1350 temporary GM jobs, sending more of our money overseas (the majority of the top ten vehicles sold under the program where foreign) and put our nation even deeper in debt.

and of course obama would call this a success.

(Report Comment)
Richie Rich September 1, 2009 | 8:10 a.m.

What I don't understand is why is Sorrels making money off these cars? They should have to pay something for them to offset my tax dollars that were used in he first place.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 1, 2009 | 9:19 a.m.

What nobody seems to get is that those Asian Car Makers were kicking American Car Maker back sides clear back in the late 70's already.

(Report Comment)
Catherine Q. O'Neill September 1, 2009 | 9:51 p.m.

Sorrels does bid on the cars and pay for them before towing them to his lot to be parted out and crushed. There is a bidding competition among the salvage yards, which is why he did not disclose the amount he pays for each car.

(Report Comment)
chad slate September 1, 2009 | 11:05 p.m.

The truth about this "clunker" buisness is the government has once again messed with an industry they know nothing about. Automotive recyclers in america are the 16th largest industry in the nation. We recycle more cars,trucks, and vans than paper,glass, and plastic combined. We reduce parts costs for everyone and save valuable land fill space. The one thing they (the government) have done is create more paperwork and headache for every one involved. To respond to richie rich's comment yes we do have to pay for the cars we recieve from the dealers,but the fact that tax payer dollars went to buy them in the first place is absurd. If Obama wanted to truly help out the american automakers he would have offered the clunkers program for only american car purchases. Will the clunkers program hurt the salvage industry? Not at all. We have been around since the Model T and we will be around for a lot longer than that. As long as there are bad drivers,poor enginering,and KIA's my job will be safe. Thanks Chadwick R Slate Manager A-1 Auto Recyclers.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 2, 2009 | 3:55 a.m.

What's an American car? These days, many Toyota's and Hoida's are made the the US, and GM and Ford vehicles are assembled using up to 50% imported parts (Canada, Mexico, Asia). The days of US made cars being made up of US made parts are long gone.

Bailouts simply reward the most inefficient industries. If GM and Chrysler had failed, we'd still have plenty of cars to go around.


(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III September 2, 2009 | 11:00 a.m.

Your comment is correct. I might just add that the real difference is what happens to the money paid for a new car once the sale is complete. If it is a foreign company, that money is wire transfered overnight to a bank overseas, and not available locally for home loans, etc. Also with the taxpayers having such a big stake in GM and Chrysler, it would be to our benefit to support the home team(s).

Also, the reasons that there is so much non-US labor and parts in our cars are the results of EPA, OSHA and DOT regs. in the first place, not to mention UAW. To compete with foreign owned companies, they have to keep costs down to make the retail prices competitive.

(Report Comment)
Yuri Se August 17, 2010 | 7:38 p.m.

Actually Salvage Cars is a good idea if you go to Auto Auction buy it and fix it, if you are trying to by already fixed car it could be a lot of problems.

I work in this industry for 15 years and in my oppinion salvage cars must be prohibited to sell in USA.


Because good %65 of them are dangerious, one more time if you buy a project car yourself, fix it yourself then you know what you did. Some dishonest people, fix the cars just to make it look like a car, but inside it's a junk. Some times even deadly dengerious.

So if you seen the accident, and fixed the car for yourself you probabli did a good job, because you did not work for proffit, then it's a good idea you can save up to %50 of car price.

So good luck

(Report Comment)

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