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Motoring: Going spare over spare parts

Have you bought spare parts from your local franchised dealer recently? If so, you will have entered a parallel universe where prices for otherwise innocuous items made from simple plastic, metal and glass base materials are positively stratospheric. You may also have been laughed out of the building by

innocently asking for a part for a car which is 'too old' such as a 1989 G registration.

But don't worry, all around London there are recycling centres that supply often hard-to-get car parts at very low prices. These remarkable establishments are not some new eco-friendly, local authority-subsidised experiment, but the good old-fashioned scrapyard. That's right, your local scrappy has been practising for the past 100 years what greenies have only recently been preaching. These places are not run on charitable lines, and their intentions are hardly altruistic, it is just that there is a great deal of money in reselling old car parts.

Scrapyards, dismantlers, breakers, auto-recyclers, or whatever they call themselves, make a lot of sense for those of us who practise motoring without the safety net of an all-expenses-paid company car. Anyone who owns a foreign car will know that parts are notoriously expensive and are deleted very quickly from stocks as new models are introduced. Often it is the smaller pieces of interior and exterior trim that can prove impos-sible to find, except at a scrapyard.

And don't worry, scrapyards aren't what they used to be, and that means dirty, dangerous places inhabited by deadly dobermanns and surly staff. Today, the parts are often removed from the cars, cleaned, shelved and tagged. Many parts are even guaranteed. And because some scrapyards offer a mail-order service, you don't even have to go there. If you still need convincing let's look at the sums. I was offered a complete interior for a Peugeot 309GTi for pounds 75 while a main agent could not even begin to calculate the cost - 'hundreds and hundreds, mate'. A tailgate for a Mark 2 VW Golf, complete with glass and rear wiper, was available from two yards at pounds 50 and pounds 75. From a VW dealer, the bare panel cost pounds 156.40, plus value-added tax of course. Modern headlights are big, vulnerable, non-standard and hardly cheap. Expect to pay half the new cost, around pounds 30, at most dismantlers for Vauxhall and Volvo items. Exotic cars get broken up too. Even Jaguars, Mercedes and Rolls-Royces can be beyond economic repair and worth more in bits.

So how do you find the right part in the right yard? Easy, you make a few phone calls. First, look in the Yellow Pages, but the regional editions of Autotrader are also helpful for London. Exchange & Mart is often more specific about breakers that specialise in particular makes.

All yards will be able to tell you what they do and don't have, and whether there is a vehicle in their yard that will yield that part. It is far better to buy the part off the shelf than wander around the scrapyard yourself with a spanner.

There are still some old-fashioned yards that let you do the work, so remember these guidelines:

1. Breakers yards are dirty, oily places, so wear old clothes; 2. They are also dangerous places - children are not allowed in and you enter at your own risk; 3. Take tools - chisels, hammer, screwdrivers, socket sets, releasing fluid, etc, because breakers don't supply them. 4. Ask what you can take and where you can find. 5. Don't try to diddle a scrappy: he is harder and smarter than you and won't take kindly to your slipping parts into your toolbox or pocket.

So now you know that breakers are good value, and a source of long-lost deleted parts, where exactly are they? Here's a brief but unbiased A to Z guide of London-wide breakers and used parts suppliers.

Alpha Recycling (081-453 0377) at Park Royal has just about everything from Alfa Romeos to a solitary Yugo. But hurry, because it is moving soon. In north London, Mill Hill Salvage (081-203 2111) not only sells damaged and repairable cars, but also has thousands of parts cleaned and shelved. In south London, Atkinsons (081-540 6666) dismantles hundreds of cars each week.

When it comes to particular makes of car, Westover & Sons in Dagenham trade as Metro Mania (081-599 0308), offering used tyres on rims from pounds 20 and headlamps at pounds 40. BK Autos (071-627 8081) in Clapham does much the same thing with Metros and claims to stock almost every part you would need to keep yours going.

VW parts are never cheap, but Volks-Apart (081-317 2330) in Plumstead offers plenty of parts off the shelf. As the name suggests, Peugeot Spares & Salvage (081-529 3365) can track down those otherwise costly 205 engine parts.

Japanese cars are hard to keep going, especially as they are updated so often. The Japanese Centre (081-553 9565) in Manor Park claims to break at least 300 a week. Heathrow Japanese Spares (081-893 7033) also breaks Japanese cars and vans, and offers next-day nationwide delivery. Autofind (081-810 6001) takes Datsuns apart in factory conditions.

Ford can be found in virtually any dismantler's yard , although Essex-based Fordco (081-539 0771) and the Ford Parts Centre on (0707 646889) and Sierra Land (081-858 7104) in Charlton will do their best to help you out with huge stocks off the shelf.

So whatever vehicle you have, a suitable donor vehicle is waiting to be stripped for parts somewhere in a London scrapyard. There is no need to remain at the mercy of your franchised dealer's parts department.

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