I Took Five Years Worth Of Spare Car Parts To The Scrapyard. Here's How Much Money I Made

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Art: Jason Torchinsky
Photo: David Tracy

What happens when you take a car-obsessed single dude, put him on a spacious plot of land in the heart of American car culture, give him a job that promotes automotive tomfoolery and surround him with friends who love to wrench? He amasses far too many car parts (and also, the city reprimands him for owning too many vehicles.) I just took most of those spare metal car parts to the scrapper; here’s how much money I made.

This is a pretty random blog, I have to admit. But just look at these photos of my $500 1991 Jeep Comanche loaded to the brim with metal. In the bed, there’s a Chrysler 8.25 rear axle from a Jeep Cherokee that was used as parts for my first off-road build at Jalopnik back in 2015-2016: Project Swiss Cheese. Then there’s the motorcycle engine from my very first wrenching story at Jalopnik — the 2015 tale about my $300 Suzuki GS550 motorcycle. You’ll also see the 4.0-liter engine that I hydrolocked just a few months after I started writing here.

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There are a couple of radiators — one from my Jeep J10, and one replacement that I accidentally ran over after I bought it from a chicken and bumble bee-infested junkyard in North Carolina that I visited as part of a Toyota Camry review. There’s also a Dana 30 front axle from the totaled (but beautiful) 1991 Jeep Cherokee five-speed that I went through hell to buy from a used car dealer in Indianapolis.

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Photo: David Tracy

There’s a cylinder head from my 1976 Jeep DJ-5D postal Jeep, Project POStal; a turbocharger from the David Dissects YouTube series; an auxiliary heater from Project Slow Devil (my 1948 Willys CJ-2A off-road project), an ignition coil cover from the $1 Oldsmobile, a bunch of starter motors including one from my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, and even some Jeep Cherokee parts that a random reader just dumped on my driveway one day.

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There’s lots of Jalopnik history shown in the bed of that Comanche; five years’ worth of endless wrenching means five years’ worth of junkyard trips and Craigslist searches for replacement parts. And while some of those parts would be nice to keep — that is the original motor from my very first car, my 1992 Jeep Cherokee — it’s all just clutter, and it’s gotta go. So I headed to my local metal yard.

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The first thing I did was drive onto the scale you see above. The total vehicle weight showed up on the screen mounted to the shed: 5,860 pounds. From there, an employee showed me to a giant mountain of scrap. I backed up to it, and the work began.

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My brother Tom and I — both wearing gloves of course — began chucking entire engine blocks, axles, wheels, cylinder heads, the hood of a Chevy Impala (which, last year, I had foolishly tried to use as a bonfire pit before realizing that there was clearly some kind of insulation between the panels that smells awful and is possibly toxic when burned) and all sorts of random things out of the bed of that truck.

Here was my view from the bed. Notice how there are a few heat exchangers leaning against the bedside and a number of aluminum parts sitting on the tailgate. Off to the side, I’ve stacked five starter motors and a few alternators. The aluminum and copper in these parts are worth quite a bit more than scrap, so I wasn’t going to chuck them into the steel heap:

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The scrap mountain, by the way, was in a state of constant maintenance while we added parts to it, with a huge claw picking up old washing machines and throwing them onto the top of the pile in an attempt to prevent the appliance-and-car-parts-filled mound from spreading.

I have to admit, it was a bit concerning having that claw overhead. All it had to do is lose grip of a small piece of steel, and that could have been the way I exit this world; covered in oil, bloodied and bruised by a rusty bit of angle iron, laying in the mud at a scrapyard. It wouldn’t have been flattering.

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Still, that crane operator was impressive. He actually used a rolled-up chain-link fence as a brush, dragging it against the ground to organize the bolts and other small scraps. The video below doesn’t show him doing that, but it does reveal an expert at work:

With my engines, axles, tie rods, wheels, wheel cylinders, brake shoes, and various other car parts that I should have gotten rid of years ago offloaded, my brother and I hopped back into the Comanche. I drove onto the scale again (the number that came up on the screen: 4,240 pounds), and then parked near the metal recycling business’ main building. My brother snagged a cart, and the two of us loaded the copper and aluminum bits onto it before heading into the facility.

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There, an employee told us to wheel the cart onto a scale, where he worked with another gentleman to weigh the aluminum and copper separately. After a minute or so, one of the men handed me a receipt.

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That receipt showed the weight of all the components I’d brought to the facility. The truck weighed 5,860 pounds when I first entered the recycling center. After my brother and I had arduously lifted all the steel from the bed to be handled by the impressive crane operator at the scrap heap, the weight dropped to 4,240 pounds, meaning I had somehow amassed 1,620 pounds of steel in my five years of wrenching at my house.

That’s a shit-ton of steel (note: this apparently makes a shit ton equivalent to 4/5 of an actual ton), and at 7.5 cents a pound, it netted me $121.50.

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The receipt also breaks down the non-steel metals I’d brought in to later be melted down. Apparently, my brother and I had dragged in 75 pounds worth of starter motors and alternators, 43 pounds worth of copper/brass radiators, and 36 pounds of aluminum. The motors/alternators and aluminum were only worth 17 cents a pound and 33 cents a pound, respectively, but the car radiators fetched me a healthy 75 cents a pound. So while I only made about $12 off the aluminum and $13 from the motors and alternators, those radiators scored me $32.25.

I placed the receipt under the ATM’s barcode scanner, and $178 slid out, turning me into a rich, rich man. Just look at the presidents on these greenbacks mentally preparing to facilitate my next foolish automotive purchase.

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If there is a takeaway from this story, it’s that money is better than metal parts that you have sitting around your house, and that you’re not likely to ever use. Ask yourself: “Am I really going to need these parts?” If you’re not certain, make a timeline of what would need to happen for you to actually use those parts in the next two years.

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“Given the other things that I have going on in my life, will I rebuild my Jeep Cherokee’s original 4.0-liter engine in the next two years?” Also, “Would it be easy to sell this engine for a reasonable amount on Craigslist?” I asked myself these questions when deciding to let go of my most beloved Jeep’s heart. The answer to both was an unequivocal “no way in hell,” and thus, the heart now lies in a huge scrap heap in Sterling Heights, Michigan. And so do all of those other parts that helped me make so many great Jalopnik memories. And I feel pretty okay about it.

Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me. Cars: Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94), Chrysler Voyager Diesel ('94)

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DISCUSSION

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Andrew Fails

Every time I see how little money people get at the scrap yard, I'm more and more confused by the people whose whole gig is collecting and selling scrap. The return on investment cannot be there.