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More people find car parts at salvage lots

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tom Henderson has seen a lot of new faces lately among the regular customers at his auto parts salvage yard.

He charges $1 for all-day access to Pick-N-Pull Auto Dismantlers in Kansas City. The minimal fee allows customers to search through the hundreds of automobiles on his East Truman Road lot for parts to buy.

With the economy getting worse by the day, automobile recyclers such as Henderson say they are seeing an increase in customers as people struggling to save money look for cheaper ways to maintain their cars.

This budget tightening probably only adds to the woes of the Big Three automakers scrambling to stay afloat while their sales plummet.

“The newer people come here for one reason,” Henderson said. “They can’t afford a new car and got to keep their beater going.”

The recession, he added, “it’s going to be good for us.”

Increasing household frugality has contributed to sinking auto sales. Last month, vehicle sales fell 36.7 percent, the biggest drop in 26 years.

Executives for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler hoped the dour numbers would persuade Congress to give them billions of dollars in loans. But even with loans, consumer confidence probably will remain low until the economy improves. All of which is good news to salvage yards.

Automobile recycling is an estimated $10 billion business in North America, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association. In addition, auto parts suppliers across the country have seen 9 percent to 10 percent sales growth since last year in the used-parts segment.

The rising price of scrap metal has also been a boon to salvage yards. At one time, a crushed car would go for $20 to $25 a ton but now they’re going for more than $300 a ton, even after a salvage yard has sold all the parts off.

“They know what they’re looking for,” Henderson said of the more than 600 customers a day who roam his salvage yard looking for parts. “Car batteries, fenders, lights, all parts of a car. They even come here for tires. They’re cheaper.”

Behind the main building of Pick-N-Pull, rows of smashed cars with flattened roofs stood under a wintry sky as a few intrepid customers battled the cold and pushed wheelbarrows stacked with car doors, fan belts and fenders they had tugged off ruined vehicles.

“You save about 25 percent on parts this way,” said Jeff Bloomfield of St. Joseph as he searched a battered green Isuzu Rodeo for an engine part. “It’s cheaper to rebuild.”

Not every customer knows what to do, however, said Pick-N-Pull employee Nacho Guerra.

“Some are real green,” Guerra said. “They don’t bring enough tools. I help them when I can.”

Farther west on Stadium Drive, Jason Huie, a salesman at Economy Auto Salvage, will spend $50 to $500 on a vehicle for his salvage yard.

“We have gotten busy lately,” he said. “Everybody is hit by the economy.”

The time of year often dictates what people want.

“I get calls for certain car parts in different seasons,” Huie said. “Wheels are good now because of potholes.”

Outside his office, employees John and Don Kennedy struggled to remove the rear window from a battered 1993 Mercury Cougar.

“People go to a mechanic and get quoted an outrageous price,” John Kennedy said. “So they come here and buy the part to fix it themselves.”

Not all salvage yards are experiencing good times, however, as some car owners can’t even afford used parts.

A few blocks down the street from Economy Auto Salvage, Nick Tavernaro pointed to the for-sale sign on the front door of his salvage yard, A-1 Auto Parts. He has been in business nearly 40 years. He experienced a slowdown in early summer and has decided to sell before business worsens.

“I have less customers for sure,” Tavernaro said. “They just don’t have money to fix their cars.” $$

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