One man's junkers are another man's treasure trove of tie rods, fenders, alternators and other perfectly adequate auto parts that offer the old jalopy a new lease on life.
And Sommer's Auto Wrecking, a 4.5-acre supermarket of grievously disowned cars and trucks at 647 W. 3300 South, is a backyard mechanic's gold mine.On a busy day, as many as 400 customers shop the neatly stacked, crushed, battered and mangled hulls of vehicles in search of parts they can't always name and, of course, a bargain.
"We probably get more walk-in traffic than any other yard in town," said manager Scott Ortar, pausing to answer a question from one of the more than 30 customers who passed through the narrow, cluttered office during the ensuing hour.
"Twelve bucks," he tells a regular customer, who had plopped a truck's sideview mirror on the metal-clad counter. "And that's a good price for that."
"I was thinking maybe $10," the customer replies with a sly grin, noting that the mirror is slightly scratched. Ortar laughs and takes the offer but insists that $12 was the fairer price.
Ortar says that as arbitrary as the transaction may seem to the uninitiated, he and the other employees generally know on sight what a used part is worth and maintain a consistent and fair pricing policy.
They also have a lot of competition. The phone book lists dozens of auto wreckers and used-parts dealers in the Salt Lake Valley, with several of them located in the same neighborhood as Sommer's. People can shop around, Ortar notes.
"We've been here for - what is it now, 35 years? - and most of our business is repeat business."
Contrary to what some people may think, the customers at an auto wrecking yard are not just grease-caked mechanics who know a Dodge NP208 transfer case when they see one. Having just directed a well-dressed young woman to the wrecked Volvo she was seeking, Ortar said, "We get people from all walks of life."
The dozen employees who work at Sommer's zip through the yard in sputtering, battered little cars and trucks that if anything look to be in worse shape than the wrecks they pass. They strip the junkers of usable parts, "stock the shelves" with new junkers, escort customers, and crush the cannibalized units for sale as scrap metal.
Ortar said the company crushes and ships out 35 to 60 cars per week and buys that many "new" cars as replacements. The inventory varies through the year but averages between 1,500 and 2,000 cars.
"The weather is a big factor," said Ortar. "We sell a lot of the heavier stuff in the summer WRECKSContinued from Dxx
months, which is when people do most of their rebuilding and major repairs."
Finding a particular part is not as difficult as it looks. Buicks are kept together in one section, Chevrolets in another, etc. Windshields, alternators, grilles and many other more vulnerable - and therefore more sought after - parts are removed from the junkers and displayed separately for shoppers' convenience.
"We handle the type of cars that the average guy drives and not so much the exotic models," Ortar said. Also, he is always on the lookout for older, classic models that are valued for their restoration parts. "They're hard to find."
But the bread and butter of the business is the standard, late model, used replacement part, Ortar explained.
A customer walked through the yard door with two greasy rods of metal that looked like mismatched thigh bones. "A tie rod and drag link?" Ortar asked. "I don't know what this is," the customer answered, looking at the drag link, but his Ford needed one.