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August 2010 Trail Head

Posted in Features on August 1, 2010
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Everyday we're bombarded with laws, rules, regulations, and politically-correct commands about such things as how fast to drive on the highway, how to treat your deadbeat in-laws, how much to tip a stripper, and which fork to use at a fancy restaurant. And just when you thought you could slip back into your old ways and grungy wrenching wear, there is one more place that has unspoken codes. There are no posted rules, there is no one to police them, nor is there any known punishment for breaking them. The rules are broken all the time, but anonymity saves many people from public embarrassment. If you have ever visited the vast parking lots full of non-running clunkers in a self-serve salvage yard, then you need to know about wrecking-yard etiquette

Recently, I spent some time searching for a Ford 9-inch rear axle. It's nothing special and not all that hard to find a complete one. But so far my search has been fruitless because many people don't follow wrecking-yard etiquette.

You're not going to barge into McDonald's during lunch rush and walk straight to the head of the line, right? Same is true at a junkyard. Obviously if someone is already pulling the part that you happen to want off of a particular vehicle, you're out of luck. But what if that guy doesn't have the proper tools he needs to yank that part? Of course, he could ask to borrow the tool from you. But according to wrecking-yard etiquette, you are under no obligation to let him borrow your tools. If he wanders off to go find the needed tool but leaves his tool bag behind, he still has a valid claim to that part. But if he walks away with his tool bag, that part is now fair game. Yank away, but you might want to be quick about it in case he comes back and is ignorant of wrecking-yard etiquette. This rule also applies to other parts on that same vehicle. If someone is diligently wrenching, wrecking-yard etiquette requires you to ask the person if it's OK if you grab some other part off of the same vehicle. This is done as a common courtesy and for safety reasons. How would you feel if someone started pulling the motor out of a 4x4 that you were taking the front driveshaft out of? Or if someone went to work yanking the intake manifold off of a motor that you were busy removing?

My next target is the hider. In my opinion, he is responsible for one of the most commonly broken rules of the wrecking yard-generally because it's easy to do without getting caught. It's evidenced by a multitude of stowaway parts found in random vehicles throughout the yard. Many people scour the wrecking yards weekly because new vehicles come in all the time. Sometimes they'll find a part they want, but either don't have the money to pay for it at the moment or know that 1/2-price day is just around the corner. No matter what the reason, this is a dirty practice and is essentially stealing from the wrecking yard, especially when someone else is willing to pay full-pop for the component in question. Sometimes the offender doesn't even remove the entire part that he wants. For example, perhaps he'll remove and hide one of the axleshafts from an otherwise complete Ford 9-inch rearend in order to deter anyone from taking the assembly. A single shaft is easier to hide than a whole axle. And who would want only 3/4 of the remaining axle assembly? Next, the hider will show up on 1/2-price day, reassemble the axle with the hidden part, and take home his dirty find. If I have the time, I take it upon myself to discourage this kind of activity by removing the random parts hidden in vehicles and placing them elsewhere or out in the open.

If what you're looking for is missing from a particular vehicle, look inside other nearby vehicles to see if someone pulled a hider on you. You may get lucky and not even have to spin wrenches to get the part you need-this is known as the Easter egg for obvious reasons. As per etiquette, the Easter egg is fair game if it's in the wrecking yard and no one else has their hand on it.

I've also heard of guys using a chain and padlock on the hood to keep other people out of a particular junkyard car's engine compartment until they come back on 1/2-price day.

Come to think of it, there were two F-150 9-inch axles at that wrecking yard. Both were missing shafts from the driver side. Too bad the hider didn't know that the right and left shafts are the same length. I think I'll go back and piece together one complete axle from the two of them. When the hider returns, he'll be surprised to find the passenger side shaft on one 9-inch and the other complete 9-inch missing. And if he doesn't figure out that the right and left side shafts are the same, he'll have what he thinks are two driver side axleshafts and no complete Ford 9-inch at all.
-John Cappa

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