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Salvaging useful car parts

Don’t call it a scrapyard. Or junkyard. Or boneyard. “It’s a recycling yard, a recycling centre, a salvage yard,” says Don Laniel firmly.

Laniel is general manager of the sprawling but pristine Sonshine Auto Parts just south of Cumberland Village. Spread over about 30 acres, Sonshine has 2,100 vehicles in stock, and they’re anything but the canted hulks we think of when Arlo Guthrie sings about “the graveyards of rusted automobiles.”

“We have a minimal number of vehicles older than 1996; we actually have some 2009s in here,” says Laniel with pride. Sounding like a mortician describing the meticulous preparation of a corpse for viewing, he continues, “the gas tanks are removed and the fluids are all drained. We have a special area for the batteries, and we recycle the gas by using it in our own fleet. The oil and the Prestone and the CFCs are collected and picked up by a company for recycling.”

Heck, the place is so squeaky clean that customers have compared it to a doctor’s office. Speaking of doctors, there’s even a small putting green out front.

With $4 to $5 million of inventory on hand, Sonshine sells parts – alternators, mirrors, entire engines – mostly to service stations and bigger shops. And thanks to the company’s membership in auto parts recycling associations in Canada and the United States, those parts could wind up almost anywhere.

But there’s still walk-in trade, says Laniel – DIY folks looking for anything from a taillight to a “red fender for a 2003 Ford F-150” that Sonshine’s bells-and-whistles inventory system will immediately locate. Or not. Sometimes it has to be ordered from another recycler. But at a saving of 50 per cent compared to a new part, and with a warranty of 90 days, it can be well worth the wait.

Sales, Laniel says, follow the seasons. Air conditioning compressors are a hot item in the summer, while this time of year brings customers looking for rims and tires.

No matter what the season, “It’s a blast here,” says Laniel. “We’ve got five salesmen, and it’s always interesting. You’re never dealing with the same issues. I’m in here at seven in the morning and most nights I don’t get home ’til seven.”

A self-employed body man by trade whose profession was taking its toll on his own body, Laniel was coaxed into joining Sonshine by Denis Desjardins, a long-time friend and owner of the recycling yard. In addition to overseeing 24 staff, Laniel journeys to car auctions and attends trade shows.

If you stop in at Sonshine, don’t expect to go stumping around the yard, wrenches in hand. A common site in the boneyards of earlier decades, that’s now off-limits because of insurance and liability issues. Instead, Sonshine employees remove the parts.

And when there’s nothing left to remove, it’s time for the big squeeze. Sonshine’s mighty crusher reduces the picked-over automobiles to a mere 24-inches high for shipment to one of several companies that grind the cars into small bits of metal. Those bits join the roughly 145 million tons of scrap produced every year in North America that re-enter the manufacturing cycle instead of plugging landfills.

With this sort of identification and utilization of every useful element, it’s no wonder Laniel calls automotive recycling an “economic science.”

Just don’t call it a scrapyard.

by Patrick Langston, Orleans Star / Weekly Journal, Daily news from Orléans and East Ottawa