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Auto parts recycling keeps older cars on the road longer, helps environment

Mechanic David Mabon is a practical guy.

He sees little reason to order expensive, new auto parts when recycled ones will work just as well, and it happens that Mabon, as a Decatur resident, is surrounded by a nearly inexhaustible supply.

Just ask Caleb Beasley or Joey Devereux of Decatur, competing general managers of two businesses located within 50 yards of one another. Both are family businesses, and both Beasley’s Decatur Auto Parts and Devereux’s Available Auto Parts have stood in their current locations since 1977. They maintain an amicable competition.

“The industry has totally changed over the years,” said Devereux, who works with his brother and father at Available Auto Parts, 2670 N. Woodford St. “The retail customer doesn’t exist like he used to. Collectors don’t come looking for parts anymore, because the parts aren’t there, due to higher prices for scrap. Now, we sell to mechanics themselves, because the real customers are hard-working people trying to keep their cars on the road.”

Mostly gone are the days when the recycler’s yard filled with end-of-life cars would be picked over by car enthusiasts looking for custom hoods or steering wheels. In a more depressed economy, consumers are happy to look for recycled car parts that can equal a significant savings. And the “green” aspect of recycling is just a bonus.

Mabon is the owner and mechanic at Mabon’s automotive, 836 N. Main St. He visits Available Auto Parts “at least” four times a week, seeking recycled parts that save his customers money.

“Yesterday, I installed a transmission that I bought recycled for $250,” Mabon said. “I charged the customer $400. If I had taken out his old one to have it rebuilt, it would have cost almost $1,000. A new one would have been around $1,200.”
Mabon stands by the quality of the parts, saying there is little reason not to make use of a resource that literally has been thrown away by those not understanding its worth. He added that his own cars are full of recycled parts.

“It’s a waste,” he said. “A lot of these cars don’t even have 50,000 miles on them. I’ve been working on cars for over 30 years, and most used parts last just as long as new ones.”

Auto recycling is a huge, $22 billion industry in America, the 16th largest in the country, according to the Automotive Recycler’s Association. It’s well-represented locally: Decatur is home to a great wealth of auto-recycling resources. The two lots together house thousands of cars, trucks and other vehicles.

Additionally, Beasley’s Decatur Auto Parts was named one of the “25 most influential auto recyclers” in the country in 2008 by Locator UpFront, a national auto recycling magazine. Beasley, who works with eight family members, including his uncle, father, brother, cousin, mother, aunt and grandmother, affirmed that the recycled original equipment manufacturer parts found in recycled cars are often of higher quality than unused after-market parts produced overseas and not installed in the original vehicles.

“They just seem to fit better a lot of the time,” Beasley said. “Better quality, less money. Most mechanics prefer installing recycled parts, and the consumer’s insurance companies prefer they get used parts as well because they’re less expensive.”
Not only does recycling save consumers money, it’s better for the environment. As it turns out, auto recycling is an inherently environmentally friendly industry. After all, its entire focus is on getting the most reusable materials out of cars that are never meant to run again. Almost every material that can be reused is harvested.

“We fight and struggle for every drop of oil in the car to feed our oil furnaces,” said Devereux, whose building is heated by the oil and gas scavenged from cars on the lot. “We drill the gas tank and reclaim all the refrigerants and fluids. We rip out all the copper. We turn a useless wreck into parts that might keep half a dozen cars running.”

The recycling of steel fenders alone saves more than 5 million tons of iron from being mined each year in the United States. It also saves nearly 3 million tons of coal and 250,000 tons of limestone. According to a study by the University of Colorado, these figures, converted to energy expended, could be used to fly the world’s airliners nearly 100 million miles. All that energy from recycled fenders.

National auto recycling organizations are proud of the industry’s environmental impact. The slogan of the Automotive Recycler’s Association is “When you’re thinking about used parts, think green parts.” Green, indeed. The University of Colorado study estimates that 24 million gallons of oil are extracted from end-of-life vehicles in the United States each year.

As millions of vehicles continue to roll off assembly lines each year worldwide, the supply of “end-of-life” cars filled with valuable parts continues to increase. Despite the size of the recycling industry, cars cannot be recycled as quickly as they are brought in. This leads to waste, as some cars are ultimately scrapped containing parts that could still be of use.
Because of this, the number of parts sold per vehicle continues to fall, according to Devereux. This gap likely will continue to grow unless more consumers choose to take advantage of recycled parts.

“Recycled parts save money and energy,” Devereux said. “The industry is more efficient now than ever before, shipping parts all over the country.”

The parts are there, waiting for consumers to take advantage of them. One man’s junker might turn out to be another man’s treasure.|