Home » I Went To A California Junkyard After Spending A Decade Fixing Cars In Michigan. Here’s Why It Blew My Mind

I Went To A California Junkyard After Spending A Decade Fixing Cars In Michigan. Here’s Why It Blew My Mind

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“Son of a! I left my Sawzall at the house!” I exclaimed on Sunday as I drove to the local junkyard just a few hours before a Super Bowl party I’d been invited to. I was on my way to yank a 200-pound front axle assembly from a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and I was now debating turning around. “There’s no chance in hell I’m getting that axle out from under that Jeep in just a few hours. Definitely not all by myself,” I thought. But I was already halfway there, and a Jeep-friend was actively telling me over the phone that he believed in me. “David, you’re stuck in the Michigan mindset. Wrenching in California is different. You’ll be fine!”

The friend in question was Fred Williams, legendary Jeep journalist and host of the greatest off-road show of all time, Dirt Everyday. His knowledge of Jeeps and wrenching is astonishing, but more importantly, he’s a good friend. He’s been a California resident for a long time, and prior to me moving here from Detroit last year, he chided me about bringing any of my vehicles west. “What are you doing? Just sell all that rusty junk and buy new Jeeps here!” he told me.

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Before I made the move, Fred painted California as a Wrenching paradise. “Whatever Jeep you want to bring out west, trust me, you’ll find a better one here, and it’ll be way easier to work on,” I recall him telling me. In yesterday’s phone conversation, which I instigated to get a bit of advice on how I was going to yank this axle in such a short amount of time all by myself and without my Sawzall, he told me: “Oh, uh, what do you need a Sawzall for?”

“To cut the control arms off,” I told him. “That way I don’t have to try to zip all those bolts out.”

“What do you mean? Is the Jeep from out of state?” he replied.

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When I told him it appeared to be a local car, Fred told me I need to remember that I’m not in Michigan anymore. “Dude, you don’t need the Sawzall. Just take the bolts out. They’ll all come right out, easily! You have an electric impact wrench? Ok, you’re good.”

I appreciated the faith Fred had in me, but upon hanging up and arriving at the ‘yard, I remained skeptical that I could remove an entire axle in just a matter of hours. You see, I’ve got a lot of trauma.

Yanking An Axle In Michigan Is Miserable

 

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A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

In Michigan, here’s how I would remove an axle from a Jeep:

I’d get to a junkyard, I’d start trying to undo a control arm bolt, and the bolt would be seized into the bushing, which would just spin, preventing the bolt from actually coming out and releasing the arm.

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The track bar bolt would probably break just below the head, and when I tried to pull the nut out from the back side, it would hit the axle before the broken bolt-shank was completely out of the track bar hole, making removing the track bar impossible.

The wheels would be so corroded onto the brake rotor hat that I’d have to sit on my butt facing the wheel with all lugnuts removed, and kick the edges of the tire as hard as I could dozens of times, alternating left and right, while spinning the wheel. The brake rotors would be so stuck to the wheel hub flange that removing them would require dozens of full-strength whacks with a sledgehammer. The little driveshaft-to-axle-yoke bolts would break, and I’d probably find myself calling it a day and coming back the next morning with a cutoff wheel and a Sawzall so I could just brute-force my way through the job.

Sawzalling the track bar would kill all my blades, so I’d have to run to the store, and then I’d strip the nuts that hold the shock to the axle, and I’d have to try to hold the nut with a Vice-Grip to keep it in place as I spun the bolt. But the bolt would be rusted to the nut, so the Vice Grip would slip, and I’d likely have to do another auto parts store run to get a bolt extractor to handle the rounded nut. In the end, the bolt extractor would hold the rounded nut in place, and I’d snap the bolt with a socket to release the shock.

All the while, I’d probably be freezing my ass off, carefully trying to avoid cutting myself on rust and worrying that the rotted-out hulk I was yanking the axle from was going to fall on me due to a collapsed unibody rail. And when it was all over, and I had scrapes and bruises and early-onset-frostbite, I’d end up with a horribly Fe2O3-covered piece of junk, which I’d have to use electrolysis to try to clean up:

 

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A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

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For younger me living in Michigan, this job would be a multi-day affair, and though I’d get the axle for dirt-cheap (probably $120 or so), it’d be rusty as all hell.

Watch the video at the top of this section to see an actual example of a friend and me removing a Jeep axle from a Michigan junkyard.

What It Was Like Removing An Axle From A California Junkyard

Upon arriving at the California junkyard, I got straight to work. I had a Super Bowl party in 2.5 hours at my girlfriend’s parents place, so I didn’t want to be late. I put my socket on the lower control arm, popped the electric impact’s half-inch drive onto the end, put an adjustable wrench on the nut on the inside of the unibody rail and hit the button. “ZIPPPP.”

“PING!”

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The bolt had come right out and fallen onto the ground.

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My eyes widened. “What the hell?! That was unbelievable!”

I got down on the ground and shoved my socket onto the upper control arm bolt, and put a combination wrench on the inside nut.

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“ZIPPPP! PING!”

Holy crap!

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“Oh but this is going to be impossible,” I thought as I looked at the sway bar bolt, which had a torx that I didn’t have a socket for on hand. Sure, there was a nut on the back side, but if I tried spinning it, the torx head was just going to spin, and there was no way I’d be able to hold that head in place with just a Vice grip.

I tried it anyway. I clamped the vice grip to the head of the bolt, shoved a 15mm deep-well onto the nut.

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“ZIPPP! Ping!”

The nut fell to the ground, and the sway bar end link just slid right off the bolt!

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Even the shock nuts came off without issue,  dropping the axle far enough to let me pry out the coil springs (you can see me doing that above). I undid the drag link, the ABS wires, slid off the calipers and watched the rotors literally slide off on their own, and before you knew it the axle was disconnected from the Jeep!

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The 200 pound chunk of cast iron was a bear to drag along the ground and out the passenger-side wheel housing. Lifting one end up onto my wheelbarrow was also awful. My back still hurts from it:

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Getting the whole thing into the wheelbarrow just wasn’t going to happen, but luckily someone from the junkyard agreed to help me out:

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And boom: I had the final major part for my “Holy Grail” five-speed Jeep Grand Cherokee project. 

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I loaded the thing up into my Trade-In Tuesday truck (you’ll hear more about that soon!), and made it to the Super Bowl party only a bit late.

I Think I Might Have Seen The Wrenching Gods

 

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A post shared by David Tracy (@davidntracy)

Honestly, aside from the pricing, which was very California, the whole thing was a borderline-religious experience. How the hell did this whole axle come out in just a couple of hours? Every single bolt came out easily — not one fastener broke, not one was rounded, not one was seized in place. I didn’t have to cut anything. I didn’t have to sneak a MAPP-gas torch in. I didn’t have to make any car parts store-runs. I didn’t cut myself on rust. The Jeep didn’t almost fall down on me due to a crumbly frame. It was… almost fun! 

Scroll up a few paragraphs and watch that Instagram video of me yanking an axle in Michigan, and tell me how fun that looks to you.

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My mind is blown, and part of me wonders: Given how easy wrenching is here in California, and given how experienced I am fixing the rustiest piles in Michigan…is it possible that I’m the Wrenching King of California?

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Mgb2
Mgb2
3 months ago

Vise, not vice!

Leo T.
Leo T.
3 months ago

“we’ve cut up nicer cars than the ones you moved to California” – Dave/Fred

Dest
Dest
3 months ago

It’s not fair.

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
4 months ago

Why didn’t you tip the wheelbarrow onto its front to load the axle in that way via leverage rather than manhandling it on top? I’ve moved many large and heavy logs that way.

James Milton
James Milton
4 months ago

I really didn’t need that comment about you making love, David. I’m having a hard enough time wrapping my head around your new relationship status and meeting your girlfriend’s parents!

Alex Kwanten
Alex Kwanten
4 months ago

This is pretty much the exact experience I had when I moved from NYC to Washington State. About two months after the move, I needed a few parts for my ’79 LeMans, so up to a pair of yards in Lynnwood I went.

I’d spent plenty of time in Washington before that, so I knew cars were generally MUCH cleaner than East Coast ones, but this was my first time in a Washington yard. I was genuinely astonished at what people had thrown away. That first day there was a Martini Edition Porsche 924 in the pick-n-pull, and a Datsun F-10 nearby. Neglected and missing a few things, but both rot-free!

Everything I needed came right off an ’80 Grand Prix. And quickly too, because nothing was rusted on. Things are sometimes full of moss or mold here, but rarely are they rotten.

I thought, “This is worth not being able to get really good bagels anymore.”

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Kwanten

I don’t know how long you’ve been in Washington, but there are a handful of good bagel shops in the Puget Sound area now. (And no, Einstein Brothers Bagels are NOT on that list.)

Mt. Bagel, Zylberschteins, and Aaron’s Bagels, for starters (and Bagel Oasis still makes the best pumpernickel bagel in the region).

Alex Kwanten
Alex Kwanten
4 months ago

Oh yeah, Zylberschteins is the joint and the best place I’ve found so far. I’ll have to check out the others!

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Kwanten

The Thai restaurant across the street from Zyl. is quite good, too just fyi

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago
Reply to  Alex Kwanten

:'( That 924 deserved to live.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
4 months ago

That’s a big part of why I moved to the southwest, rust-free cars are awesome to work on. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve broken a bolt wrenching, it’s really quite uncommon. I don’t understand why people put themselves through the torture of crappy weather, crappy roads, and rust instead of just moving to a rust-free place with nice weather all year round. Like yeah, it’s expensive, but it’s worth every penny!

The caveat of course, is that you’ll never find any good interior pieces in a junkyard out here, especially not in Arizona. The sun destroys all paint, leather, and vinyl, like nothing else. Gotta pick your poison.

Xpumpx
Xpumpx
4 months ago

low crime rates and well funded schools

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
4 months ago
Reply to  Xpumpx

Crime rates are pretty low in the part of the Phoenix metro area I live in, and schools aren’t a concern for me since I don’t plan on reproducing. But fair point, I guess.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago

There’s a reason all of my cars have been Texas or California cars their whole lives. A good reason. Many good reasons. THESE reasons.

Anyunusedusername
Anyunusedusername
4 months ago

Obviously fake news. None of this is truth. Believe nothing this snake oil salesman says! CA is awful, stay away!

Dudeoutwest
Dudeoutwest
4 months ago

Dude. You have to learn that we don’t tell out of staters about these things. Let them roll on with their “too crowded”, “I hate Hollywood”, etc. delusions that keep them wherever it is they’re throwing stones from.

I have an old F150 and the while the bed is scratched to hell and back, it’s not rusted. The paint, however, is all sunburned off and there’s some surface rust there. But looking underneath this thing and even at 24 years old, the fasteners have no rust, no crud and when I work on it, I almost never have to fire up PB Blaster or Kroil or any of the stuff I had to use back in New England.

But ixnay on the enchingwray.

Dan Parker
Dan Parker
4 months ago

Shhh, we don’t talk about the good stuff in public! Remember folks: CARB, crazy gas prices, insane rent/real estate prices, wild fires… The list goes on! You’d have to be a lunatic to live here. Really, its like the worst.

Seriously though, I just pulled the panhard bar off of my ’65 C10 and could probably re-use the fasteners.

Kevin Zagorski
Kevin Zagorski
4 months ago

Anybody know which yard this is? Or have other recs for yards in the greater LA area?

Alec Weinstein
Alec Weinstein
4 months ago
Reply to  Kevin Zagorski

Probably Sun Valley, but beginning of this year they *skyrocketed* their prices

MP81
MP81
4 months ago

Working on my ’81 Z28 – which spent the entirety of its life in Southern California prior to me having it shipped here in 2016 – was damn near a revelation.

It just…came apart. Even the exhaust U-clamp nuts.

Like…what a concept – a vehicle that doesn’t just fight you every step of the way doing anything.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
4 months ago

As a former Michigan resident myself I echo your jubilation. I have a 21-year old Honda that has always been a California car, and I marvel with glee at the sheen and sparkle I can instantly obtain from any chassis bolt by simply wiping it with a rag. I do NOT miss snapping bolts while laying on an ice cold garage floor. Working on anything under the hood or chassis takes 1/3 of the time it did in MI.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago

Gosh, every time I looked at jobs up north, I also started pricing out houses with enough indoor parking for my current vehicles to see if I could afford the move…as well as a disposable crapcan to drive in the winter instead. No way would I ruin a bunch of rust-free southern cars in that salt. Nope. Absolutely not.

There’s a lot of things I don’t like about Texas, but I don’t envy the rust elsewhere at all.

Last edited 4 months ago by Stef Schrader
Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
4 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

I’ll take any amount of rust over the hate masquerading as rule of law by those clowns you have running the state.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
4 months ago

Fair. (That is one of the major things I absolutely do not like here.)

Black Peter
Black Peter
4 months ago

Before you get too excited: I went to retrieve a set of rear spindles from a WRX in a local junk yard (Phoenix). A job I was intimately familiar with and should have been a 20 minutes.. 3 hours later I left with one spindle still wearing it’s axle and the other half the trailing arms. Luckily I wasn’t charged for the extra parts.

Cerberus
Cerberus
4 months ago

As a MA resident, I laughed in empathy and amazement throughout. Good on you retrieving some of that stuff in MI. In MA, I’d look at stuff like that and shake my head figuring that if I even won the battle, the part would probably be little better than the one I wanted to replace (also didn’t have portable impact guns then, or at least I didn’t).

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