HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — At Dirkes Used Auto Parts, they call themselves an auto recycling facility, not a junkyard.
The family-run business makes that distinction on a sign in its office off the Black Horse Pike in Mays Landing.
“We recycle everything there is to do with a car. We’ll drain it of all the oils. We recycle the oils and antifreeze. We resell the windshield washer fluid,” said Rob Dirkes, 32, who works at the business owned by his father, Bob Dirkes, 61.
In some form, nearly three-quarters of a vehicle can be recycled or reused — engines, batteries, windshield wipers and door handles can be used as cheaper replacement parts for older cars, he said.
Various metals, such as aluminum and copper, can also be stripped before the remainder of the car is sold for scrap metal.
Meanwhile, car owners can find less costly ways to maintain their vehicles.
“What that does is your regular average people who can’t keep affording to go buying new cars try to keep their cars on the road as long as they can,” he said.
The Automotive Recyclers Association, a trade group, says auto salvage dealers represent a $22 billion industry annually.
The Dirkes Used Auto Parts lot is a field of all ilk of nearly 1,200 vehicles propped up on stands.
Some have been stripped of engines, or hoods, or sun visors.
Bob Dirkes said the business is divided into two functions — an employee can locate a car part for a customer for an added fee, or car part shoppers can browse the lot and remove their own parts.
This latter side of the business is called “U-Pull-It,” and it has been a saving grace of the business since Dirkes implemented it after seeing the concept in a California junkyard in the 1980s.
The idea was an economical one, and it has since brightened the future that Dirkes sees in the auto salvage business, where he works with his wife, Rose, and sons Rob and Tim.
“Honestly, I didn’t think there was another generation in the salvage business. Until I went to the U-Pull-It, and now it’s OK. I feel comfortable they’ll be able to hang onto it through their adulthood,” Bob Dirkes said.
“To send a parts puller to the yard to pull a $2 emblem or $3 sun visor, it costs him money, they can’t do it. You’d have to sell it for 50 bucks, but no one’s going to spend 50 bucks on a sun visor. So this gives the customer a price list — and if they have a ’92 Cavalier and need a sun visor, they can find it.”
Bob Dirkes got into the business after he graduated high school in 1969.
“My father was an electrician and always wanted a junkyard. When I graduated from high school he said, ‘What do you want to do, what are your plans?’ He says, ‘How about a junkyard?’ He had worked on his own cars and I had worked on cars. It’s something he always wanted to do, so we spent the summer of ’69 and looked at 15 junkyards.”
They settled on one they found in Hamilton Township — advertised as a business opportunity in a local newspaper — that included a repair shop and gas station.
One of the selling points of the purchase was the family was able to also live on the property — since his father needed to sell his home to make the purchase, he said.
The gas station ran for several years, until the oil embargo in the early 1970s.
“The company we bought from couldn’t get gas anymore, and we closed the gas station,” he said.
In more than 40 years, the business has gotten more complex — vehicles now are electronically recorded in the inventory. Economic shifts and legislative changes have also affected business, too.
“One of the things that hurt us a little was when the state stopped the (safety) inspections a few years ago. Before, people came right from the inspection station with a broken tail light (to buy a used one),” he said.
Impacts of a down economy are also evident. More people are looking to pull parts off the vehicles themselves to save money, Rob Dirkes said.
“A few even make it into a side business. They may be their block’s local mechanic and do work for friends and family,” he said.
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