The Internet meets the junkyard (2023)

I like junkyards a lot, and I've been haunting the places since I was 16 and my '69 Toyota Corona sedan needed parts from the now-defunct Oakland U-Pull.

A walk through your typical wrecking yard provides all sorts of things to write about… but I'd be taking those walks just for the sheer enjoyment of it. In fact, you might say that I have a junkyard problem. That means that a startup that wants to be the go-to online junkyard search site might contact me and try to talk me into writing about their operation, and such was the case with Row52 a year or two back.

At first, I thought the Row52 concept was great, but the site was a bit buggy and the inventory was limited to yards owned by Pick-N-Pull only. But I kept my eye on the site, and in recent months, something happened: the Row52 crew fine-tuned their site and managed to integrate their database with those of many self-service yards from around the country. Now Row52 has become a very useful resource for car freaks, and one that I can recommend.

Let's take a look at how it works.

The Internet meets the junkyard (1)

Alex Rashev

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What really convinced me that Row52 had made the jump from cool idea to useful tool was when the site helped several 24 Hours of LeMons teams in California find much-needed engines in a hurry. For example, when the worst car in 24 Hours of LeMons history needed a replacement Mitsubishi 6G72 engine after killing its seventh engine as part of a back-and-forth cross-continental odyssey, Row52 found a Dodge Dynasty at a yard just a half-hour's drive from Thunderhill Raceway.

I can think of a half-dozen LeMons teams that have done the same thing during the last six months, and I have taken to recommending the site (and the app, though I haven't tried it myself) to any team I spy moping over a thrown rod or nuked transmission.

The Internet meets the junkyard (2)

Murilee Martin

So Row52 lets you search year, make, and model from 86 yards around the United States and Canada, which is cool, but it gets really interesting when you're trying to find some oddball part for your orphaned car— say a Peugeot 604— and you find just the right car… on the other side of the country. Most self-service wrecking yards won't pull or ship parts, so in the past you'd need to find someone you knew in the area to go scout out and grab those unobtainium 604 door panels. Now you can use Row52 to find parts pullers, mechanics who list the junkyards they're willing to visit and who can pull and ship needed parts to you.

You'll need to negotiate terms with any parts puller you find, but there's a ratings system on the site, which should help you pick a good puller. Naturally, I didn't want to write about such a service until I'd spoken with at least one apiece Row52 parts buyer and parts puller, and— thanks to my connections with the huge pool of LeMons racers who hang around wrecking yards— I have managed to do just that.

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The Internet meets the junkyard (3)

Murilee Martin

I interviewed Rich, a California-based 24 Hours of LeMons racer who has signed up as a Row52 parts puller, and here's what he has to say:

I've been doing the puller thing for almost a year now— was pretty slow getting started but now that the site has grown and is gaining users I field a couple inquires a week. They generally fall into two categories:

1. People in the general area that are wanting to verify a part is on the vehicle so they can make the trip to get it themselves. Bay area peeps mostly. I don't make anything on this (although I've been offered finders fees a couple times). I don't mind doing this because I'm in the yard a few times a week for work so it's no real extra effort to give a specific car a once-over for someone...

2. People that want parts pulled. I've had locals that don't have the time or expertise to pull parts themselves and those that are out of the area. I can choose what I will and won't pull and/or ship and what I will charge. I don't pull engines (had a guy offer me what he felt was a generous $50 to pull a motor from a Windstar!) or trans because there isn't enough money in it to make it worth my while and still be cost-effective for the buyer. I do know there are pullers that will - that just ain't me. I wind up talking about 5% of inquiries of this type out of buying a used part because buying a new part is more cost-effective than used (by the time my labor and shipping are added to the cost of the used part). Guy wanted a rear wiper arm for a Taurus wagon - not hard to find and easy to pull but he'd be looking about $25 by the time I got it to him and I found NOS Ford ones on eBay for $28 shipped. He would have been fine with the used one but my conscience wouldn't let me do that to make $10…

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The number one request I do turn down is large body parts (hoods, doors, hatches) because they're generally too costly to ship and I don't want to be responsible for packing something that huge. That said, I've shipped stuff all over the country and I have a '96 Dodge Ram grille in my trunk that is destined for a guy in Finland. I haven't made a ton of money at this, but I've made enough to have fun and fund a lot of my personal purchases from there. All in all I think it's a great service and I wish I would have thought of it myself.

The Internet meets the junkyard (4)


For the other side of the Row52 parts-puller experience, I spoke to Dennis, a Midwestern LeMons racer who runs an Alfa Romeo Milano. Dennis decided that a first-generation Toyota Tercel (marketed in the United States badged, confusingly, as the "Corolla Tercel") would make an excellent 24 Hours of LeMons car, but the Midwestern example he purchased had dangerously rusty lower control arms on the rear suspension. This Tercel problem was widespread, so much so that it was the subject of an NHTSA recall in 1985, and so Dennis wanted to find some replacements from a non-rusty region. Via Row52, he contacted several parts pullers in Arizona and California, and (after getting no response from a couple of pullers) found one willing to grab a pair of pristine control arms and related hardware from a yard in Stockton. Here's what Dennis has to say about the experience:

The arms showed up a couple days ago and they're in stunningly good shape. The parts puller said it was a really clean car, which I thought was probably BS. How nice could a 1980-something Toyota be by now? But, even the bushings on the suspension arms are in great condition.

Having a picture of the car at each yard is pretty darn cool and its fun to see what the most obscure car you can find is. I was disappointed at first with the trouble I had getting responses from potential parts-pullers. That will make or break how useful the site is for those looking for parts in yards far away (like rust-belt folks searching for decent older parts).

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But the guy I ended up with was great. He verified the parts I wanted before he pulled them, sent pictures, and kept me posted on what was going on. For what he charged to do it, given the work to remove the parts and then pack them, I thought it was a heck of a deal for me. Especially to get such pristine lumps of 1981 Toyota steel.

The Internet meets the junkyard (5)

Murilee Martin

Of course, most users of Row52 won't be interested in being or hiring parts pullers; they just want to find out when new iron hits the yard, so they can— in the words of the slogan on the site's home page— get there first.



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