It took Guerrero all of 40 minutes to extract the engine. Implanting it into his Civic, and getting that operation sewed up, he estimated, would take a day and a half.
When asked how he knew that this particular engine was worth the effort, Guerrero said that by examining the deposits on the inside of the exhaust manifold, he could determine that it had been scrupulously maintained. The manner in which he made this pronouncement, with the same detached certainly with which one might say “the sky is blue”, was enough to turn a novice tinkerer green with envy.
A stroll around the yard yields a view into machinery that had once been someone’s dream: pickups, coupes, wagons and sedans, all chariots that had seen better days. Amid these, a passerby could hear snippets of conversation emanating from beneath a chassis, and occasionally, catch sight of a disembodied arm, its hand sheathed in a plastic glove, gripping a wrench or hammer caked in blackened grease, its owner perhaps considering an angle from which he or she might achieve superior leverage.
After a certain interval, when the customers have already had their way, Pick-n-Pull gives the cars a final once-over, pruning any remaining components before trundling the hulks to a crusher, which squashes them flat, and to a shredder whose hammerlike teeth grind them into little bits of metal. Some of this metal makes its way to Schnitzer Steel's own mill in Oregon, which makes rebar and other construction and engineering materials. The bulk of it, though, is sold primarily to Asian firms, who reprocess and reintroduce it back into the manufacturing cycle – possibly to be sold anew in the US. The circularity is compelling. To think that the stainless steel bowl in your kitchen might contain shreds of your grandfather's Plymouth Volare, or the i-beam beneath your feet, molecules of his beloved Chrysler New Yorker.
Driving north from San Jose back to San Francisco in rush hour traffic, surrounded by the newest, most potent, most efficient products the automotive industry has to offer, a Pick-n-Pull visitor’s eye becomes attuned to the rear-enders, the t-bones, the sideswipes and head-on collisions, the decade of benign neglect that would someday lead each and every one these creatures to a wrecking yard.
But that may not be their coda. As a visit to the Pick-n-Pull demonstrates, the end of a car’s life could be but another beginning.