Tom Ross: Auto salvage yard has been recycling for decades
November 6, 2010
Steamboat Springs — My first inclination was to suspect that the very bad economy has been nothing but very good for Steamboat Springs' auto salvage yard. I mean, with construction jobs down, I figured Steamboat families were shopping for used auto parts and those who are mechanically inclined were taking a do-it-yourself approach to replacing starters and fuel pumps.
Sherid Schonert straightened me out Friday afternoon. Yes, his business at M&M Auto on Steamboat's west side has bounced back to pre-recession levels. But when the nation's economy was running on four flat tires in 2008, even M&M was feeling the pinch.
"At first, Cash for Clunkers definitely had an adverse effect on us," Schonert said. "The (2008) Olympics in China hurt us most. The Chinese shut down all the big steel mills because of the pollution and smoke. All that time, the price of (recycled) steel fell from record highs to almost nothing."
Recycling steel is the most lucrative part of the business.
Schonert was planning to crush a few more cars in his yard this week or next and ship them off to Axis Steel in Craig before abandoning that important part of his business until the snow melts in spring.
You may have driven by M&M Auto a couple of hundred times without recognizing it as one of Steamboat's oldest recycling centers, if not the oldest. The salvage yard has been at its current location since 1968. Before that, Schonert said, it was near the railroad depot on 13th Street.
Schonert and his partner, Olaf "Bing" Satre, are in the process of buying the business from Bing's father, Marc. Bing Satre, who flies for Jet Blue out of Boston, will be a silent partner.
When dead automobiles and pickups are delivered at M&M, the staff immediately removes the fluids — oil, gas and antifreeze — and stores them properly until they can be disposed of. A few local repair shops have clean-burning oil heaters, and they come by in winter for the old engine oil.
The staff quickly removes tires and wheels and takes inventory of usable parts, including engines, before they are pulled up the hill where they are largely out of sight (the junked cars do have panoramic views of Mount Werner and Sleeping Giant).
"I've sold a Ford diesel engine for more than $5,000," Schonert said. "But an old Chevy 350, you can pick it up for $300."
More and more people are coming to M&M to save money on parts — a new starter that might cost you upwards of $300 could be had for $30 to $45 and comes with a 30-day warranty.
Of course, you have to know how to install the new starter in your heap.
"A lot of things, I could walk you through it," Schonert said.
Obviously, he doesn't know that I am not a handy guy.
Even some repair shops that formerly never sold anything but brand-new auto parts are beginning to offer their customers the option of used parts, Schonert said. M&M offers its used auto parts on http://www.carparts.com and links to other salvage yards through the Hollander Interchange system.
If I'm up front about it, my favorite reason to visit M&M Auto isn't to shop for gently used transmissions and axles, but to beg permission to prowl the yard with my camera.
I just like to photograph sun-baked old junkers with three layers of paint faded down to rusted metal surrounding ancient taillights.
And I'm all in favor of recycling junked cars.