Sunday, June 26, 2016

I would not be surprised if many younger car enthusiasts have never been to a wrecking yard. Especially if they are not a "hands on" kind of guy. If you are mostly involved with later model cars then parts are still readily available at your local auto parts store. For older cars sometimes the only readily available parts are used, either from an online listing. a swap meet, or a wrecking yard. Many refer to this venue as a junk yard, which is really a misnomer as that yard is full of gold, not junk.

These can be tragic places for the enthusiast. Once gleaming objects of desire are reduced to smashed, dirty, smelly cadavers. Even the mighty will have fallen. I saw a late 90's Jaguar supercharged V8 XJR sitting at a local Pick and Pull. The body and interior were in fine shape, The motor area looked undisturbed. My guess was that either the cam chain tensioners gave out or the car blew a head gasket. Either way the cost of the repair exceeded the vehicle's value. I've seen lots of cars like this offered on Craig's List. The seller coyly referring to it as a "mechanics special" No lie. No takers either. So it found it's way to the scrap heap. Still it might provide some one a perfectly serviceable supercharger. Or brake system. Or cool mesh grille. So much good can be found picking over the bones of the dead.

There are many types of good parts available, especially body parts, trim pieces, and interior components. Mechanical parts such as steering and suspension, radiators, manifolds, and brake parts. Consumables, like brake pads, suspension bushings, spark plugs, belts and hoses are better bought new. Starters, alternators, power steering pumps, rack and pinions can be a good deal if you thoroughly check them out beforehand and you are aware how much a new or rebuilt part will cost. If there isn't a substantial savings then go for the new part.

The overall appearance of the donor car can tell you a lot. A clean lower mileage car that was junked as the result of a massive rear end collision can yield an engine bay and front end full of good parts. Relatively current oil change stickers indicate that this car was recently driven until the fortunate event. Look in the glove box for any receipts. Cars with a heavy, stubborn looking coat of dirt, worn out interiors full of trash, and faded paint with rusty panels usually have sat abandoned and unmoved for many years. It seems that the only 50s and 60s cars I  find nowadays in the yards are in this condition. A very heavily rusted car may have sustained major fire damage. I don't have to tell you to avoid these cars. Sometimes though, you will luck out.

Once, when I was looking for engine parts for my '66 Riviera (cylinder heads in this case) I found a car with a very clean looking motor. I looked under the rocker arm covers and saw that the motor was free of sludge. I pulled a couple of plugs and they were nice and clean. As I was inspecting the underside I saw a small plate attached to the block that carried the name of an engine rebuilding company. I had noticed the the inner wheel wells had been painted white and the car had sustained major rear end collision damage. I interpreted this to mean that some one had been fixing up the car by having the engine rebuilt, added some nice wheels (hence the white wheel wells) but the car had been wrecked and was not worth the cost of repair. I bought the motor and installed it as found in my Riv. The motor ran great and gave me several years of good service. Now that was a real bargain.

Back in the day there was only the full service yard. You walked up to the counter and told the man what part you needed. He then called out over the intercom to the yard man to go pull the part off and bring it upfront. The customer was limited to the area at the front of the establishment. There was usually a display of shiny hubcaps, some tail lamp assemblies, a nice clean front seat and maybe a set of factory mags or rally wheels. Off to the side might be a smaller room with a display of used tires, or even better, a rack of used motors, with their mileage written on the valve cover with that thick yellow paint pen. All with a 90 day guarantee!  I remember going with my Dad to those wrecking yards when I was a little kid. They seemed to be filled with so much potentially cool and useful stuff. If I could only get in and take a look! And there was that wonderful distinctive smell, of old caked on dirt and grease. That can trigger some real nostalgia. For some reason modern yards just don't smell the same.

Modern self service lots allow you to go in, wander around and help yourself. I'll walk around looking in different cars, especially the fancy ones and imagine what I could use and adapt. A lot of patrons don't use a lot of finesse removing parts. They will pretty much tear up and break surrounding components. It always strikes me a somewhat disrespectful.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Today I went by my favorite consignment car lot, Wheels and Deals in Santa Clara. This is a pretty big lot and turnaround is pretty good. The staff there is nice and helpful but the best thing is that you are pretty much left alone. Since there are no salespeople there is no pressure. You can roam around and see a diverse selection of different years and models, and price points. For the most part the cars are in pretty good condition. I think that the sellers were about to trade them in and were surprised at how little they were going to receive as a trade in. The truth is most car dealers like to structure the deal so that the trade is given for free. The asking price is usually higher than the car's actual value which gives the dealer room to negotiate a "value" for the trade in. Most of the times the seller needs a new car and doesn't want to try to sell their car on Craig's List so the deal is made. Many of the cars here are really clean, with good tires, and have received proper maintenance. They are much better that some of the junk that you would find listed on CL. They are generally priced a bit higher but consider that the seller has to pay a fee for the lot space. You can have the car unlocked and you can start it up, try the accessories, especially the a/c and look for smoke or strange noises. If you  are still interested you can take it for a short supervised test drive. A lot employee will accompany you, which is only fair.

Good cars sometimes sell very quickly. Overpriced or unusual cars can stay on the lot for a long time. There are manager's cars which belong to the lot. Some of these old turkeys sit on the lot for well over a year. There is a pathetic looking wide body Porsche 928 that has been there probably two years. There a couple of MBZ 450 SLC coupes that have been there well over a year. I actually considered one, but they would have had to cut the price drastically. If you go regularly you will see the price drop as the seller gets tired of paying the monthly fee. Nothing like a motivated seller with a cash ready buyer. You will initially deal with the seller over the phone. So you can make any offer that you want. If he is not amenable to the price you can tell him to call you back if he reconsiders. He might call you back with a lower price that he is prepared to accept.

The actual transaction takes place at the lot office and the staff will help you to fill out the paper work. This is a good opportunity to check the status of the registration, the actual ownership of the vehicle and to look for a salvage title. It is the lot's policy to clearly post a notice that the car has a salvage title. Be aware that if the car is not currently registered that the buyer will be responsible to pay late fees or incomplete transfer fees. The seller is legally obligated to provide a clean smog check, unless the buyer agrees to buy the car without it. Don't do that! Most later models cars with over 1000,000 miles should still pass the test. If there is a mechanical problem don't even consider buying the car. Longtime CL scanners will often read that the seller is 'too busy" to bother getting a smog check done. Sure they are! Obviously they are concerned that their car might not pass and they would have to disclose that to the buyer. Of course everything is negotiable, you can get a car pretty cheap but you can end up with a real headache. So only consider a smog checked car, you'll have two years with the car before the test will be an issue again. Lower priced cars that can be paid in cash are the easiest to buy. If a cashier's check is used the seller may wish to go to the buyers bank to verify the check. Warranty? What's that? It might be possible to get one for a later model car, but check that out first if that is important to you.

As I said I like to look at the different cars at my leisure, from different angles and viewpoints. If you have questions you can call the seller. Just don't be the kind of guy that bothers the seller when he has no real intent to buy. I had one bad experience with that; I had my '94 Cadillac STS on the lot. Some punk hip hop kid saw the car online, and pestered me with repeated calls asking for a lowered price. I told him to go look at the car first then we could deal. He kept calling back asking for a lower price. I am sure glad that that guy wasn't going to my house to see the car. Just remember that your address will be on your title papers. I haven't had a bad experience that followed me home, but be aware. If there are attractive things about your home, your family members, or other possessions, a consignment sales lot can be a very good idea. I told the manager that they should keep the seller's contact info off the internet. They can post it on the car or better yet have it available in the office.

I have bought a couple of cars from Wheels and Deals and sold one. I used to go there almost every week. Where else can you see two nice 2007 MBZ CLS sedans, a C5 Corvette, a 2004 Jaguar XJ8 and a bunch of BMW and Mercedes cars without being bothered by a salesperson? You can peruse the inventory online first and see if the trip is worth it. I like to be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hope springs eternal. but sometimes hope has to be rooted in reality. I filled up the transmission with fresh fluid and put it into gear. No change, Reverse still worked the same and there was a little more grip in Drive. I would rev it up and it would suddenly engage a bit with a bang. Gotta face it,  I'm no better off than i was before. My plan was to wait and save up some more money.

Well I'm always scanning the CL listings for Jag parts ans found an XJS tranny offered for 250.00. So I called and spoke to Carlos at Continental Motors in Oakland. He told me that the trans had come out of an XJS with only 53,000 mils on it, The car had sustained a rod knock and valley fire. Carlos was familiar with the car because it had belonged to a long time customer. He said that the transmission should be good as -is. I asked if he could install it, he said that he had to ask his Dad, who ran the shop. I thought about it for a few days. I called him on a Monday and said that I would go take a look at it on Friday, He told me that they wouldn't be able to install it. He said that he would text me the directions. On Friday morning I checked my messages and Carlos told me that he was lowering the price to 180.00 and was giving me the first crack at it. I called him back and told him that I would take it. I first thought that I would take the trans to a shop and have it gone through to be sure that it was good before installation. Well that would be the same cost as a rebuild, probably close to a grand, no savings in cost, just maybe less work as I would be certain that the trans was fine. I didn't blame them for not wanting to install it. How could they warranty their installation if they weren't certain that the trans was good? If they installed it and it was bad, there was no way they would refund the labor cost. And many customers would feel that they were getting ripped off, better just to sell the thing and wash their hands of it.

Now, If I install it myself, I'm just investing my time and effort. If it is good, I just made a great deal and I'm coming out way ahead! If it's bad I'm out my time and effort but can now take the original trans out to a rebuilder. So I am rolling the dice. The chance of a favorable outcome is very good.

I grew up in Oakland, in fact I even worked at a gas station that was behind this shop. This is a rough area. The owner told me that he had moved in during the early 1970s and things had gotten very tough with crime and drug use in the area. Things seem to have turned the corner a bit but this location is not for the faint of heart. CJ and Carlos are extremely nice gentlemen. Their shop is full of early Jags, XJSs, XJ6s, even a 420G! They appear to be very dedicated and knowledgeable. I saw the black XJS coupe that the transmission came out of. It was in very nice condition with a perfect black leather interior. This would be a great car for a Chevy conversion. Carlos told me that he had just placed it on E-bay. I hope it gets sold instead pf parted out.