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SAAB Project Update: In the Junkyard Again


It felt good to be in a junkyard again. The yards in my hometown have all but disappeared, but I have fond memories of going to them as a kid. Sometimes we connect memories to the darndest things. For some people it’s food, for others it’s sports, and for most of us here, it’s cars. I remember going to a salvage yard just down the street from my house with my father and little brother. Josh and I would go hunt around for anything old or interesting while dad pulled parts for his work trucks. I can still remember the Datsun 240z that dad liked and the 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline that provided much needed parts for my own daily driver. I even owned a fold up toolkit that was perfect for junkyard duty.


Well, I still have a portable tool set so it was nice to be able to go to a pick-and-pull the other day. As I pushed a wheelbarrow down the isles of cars, the memories came flooding back and even though I was surrounded by mangled steel, it felt good to be there. It also didn’t hurt that I scored a working turn signal switch and a gauge cluster for our SAAB! It was a good time and I’m grateful that there are still people out there who like to get their hands dirty. So, if you haven’t been to a junkyard in a while, I encourage you take a trip to peruse your local yard’s inventory. Even if you don’t need anything, you could snap a few photos and relive a few memories.


Anyway, as mentioned I found a working turn signal switch. I had been watching eBay for one, but the two that showed up over the past month ending up selling for a surprising amount of money. The gauge clusters were even more and they didn’t include any sort of guarantee. The yard gave me a guarantee and I only paid $40 for both items! That was a steal, but it did take some work to get them off the parts car and onto mine. To get to them you have to disconnect every switch in the dash and remove the fascia. Luckily, fixmysaab.com has a tutorial that helped with the task. We now have a working tachometer and a turn signal stalk that actually sticks! Just be sure to label all the wires as you disconnect them.


Please teach your children to never install aftermarket stereos in their cars! Tell them it is a foolish idea and punish them if they even think about it. Every single car that I have purchased over the years that had an aftermarket head unit has been poorly installed. As you can see this one had connectors shoved into the original harness, but at least it wasn’t all cut up. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of vehicle-specific wiring harnesses?


My original plan was to pick up a mass airflow sensor and an idle air control valve. Well, as you can see, someone has already been here. All the mechanical bits I needed were long gone, but that is okay because this SAAB was in a junkyard for a reason and it wasn’t because of crash damage. My next step in keeping our old 900 on the road is to start replacing hoses. Leaky vacuum hoses can make things run rough and blown coolant hoses can cause even more severe problems. Hopefully after that we will be able to start diagnosing the surging idle and stalling issues.

Latest Project Updates


  1. cory thatcher

    love it. glad to know I’m not the only weirdo walking through junk yards just for the fun of it.

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  2. paul

    The second picture of the 4 dr light blue Saab was my car. I too changed the directional switch but my cluster was fine never needed that…. Ah the good old days of wondering junk yards but junkyards are now salvage yards & you can’t wonder through them, they are all paved no more earthen ground the cars are neatly stacked on metal racks one over the other, need something they pull it down ( fork lift) & remove what you need & charge you half of the cost of a new part. At least that is the way it’s done in the cities. EPA requires them to have no earthen ground for any seepage of any fluids.

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    • Sir Robo

      The last ‘Pic-a-Part’ I walked around in, was when I lived in SoCal almost a decade ago. TG we still have walkable junkyards a plenty here in MT, as well as many that are still resting out in the ‘woods’.. ‘n as far as EPA Reg’s go, never hear much of that. The best part, NO Sales Tax on anything, new or used. Yep, huntin’s good up here, vehicle or animal, and glad I moved.

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      • Horse Radish

        Anybody with half a brain will do what you did and move away from CA.
        “Brown clown” is running again.
        He was proposing legislation to charge a 5cents a mile charge on any mile driven in California on top of the ridiculous registration fees…..
        I think he wants to build a MANSION FOR HIS FOURTH TERM ,

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      • paul

        Yeah Radish we got a similar clown in Fla doing the same thing I think we all need to move to MT. But then again we have the hurricanes & you got the fires & earthquakes & I would really miss all that.

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    • mikeH

      Let’s not leave the attorneys out of it. One reason there are so few pic-a-part yards left is that some people sue the yard when they hurt themselves [accidentally??] taking off parts.

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  3. Brian

    I use to say I’d pay to walk through a good junkyard. Today you do pay. Still fun and still good sources. I only wish the one in Houston that I walked through around 1980 was still open. It had about 4 SCCA cars sitting in it and Vintage was not yet established in Texas so they were cheap.

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  4. Wiley Robinson

    I hope you grabbed the facia. I just had to pay a buy on ebay $70 for a mediocre one. I wish I lived where you could find a decent SAAB 900 in a junkyard.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      I’m headed out there right now actually to get a headlight bracket so maybe I will grab that too.

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  5. Thomas

    I love to go find lost treasures at the junk yard. I kept my 1993 Chrysler New Yorker running very well thanks to all the goodies that I was able to find that needed replaced. The sad part about it is that “Blanche” is now in Chrysler heaven and I hope that there were many re-purposed uses that she was able to supply to another.

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  6. Barry Thomas

    Jesse…..are you really enjoying the hunt to keep your Sad running or do you yearn for your Mustang? Personally, I like new with no reliability issues. Since I have no repair skills, I’d be paying for a mechanic’s southern vacations. Bought an old Coupe de Ville once, but when I saw the mechanical repair estimates, it was so long dream car.
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog.

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      Sure, it is fun. I have a tendency to use my old cars as daily drivers though and that can get frustrating at times. Hot summer days without a/c and stalled engines in intersections do get old, but you are forced to get things fixed if you have to drive it to work the next day. Ideally I would like to have something maintenance free as a daily driver so I could focus on my projects, but that also ties up funds needed to buy parts. See the dilemma?

      I am no mechanic by any means, but it is fun to learn how to repair things yourself. Most people could fix most problems if they just tried. Buy something cheap like the Starlet I picked up the other day and start going through things. There so many resources online that you can figure out how to repair just about anything these days.

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      • Brian

        It’s funny, when I own a newer car, I miss the challenges and the pride of working on my car, scrounging through junkyards for repair bargains, and all the rewards needed for a job well done with my free labor! But when I have an old car, I get tired of the constant repairs, the money and time spent keeping things working whenI want to spend time (and money) on other projects. I suppose it’s the human condition – the grass is always greener over someone else’s septic tank – so to speak!
        However, unlike 20 years ago, the prices of new cars leaves me much colder than it once did. Right now, I keeping our one owner nearly 10 year old Mercury Mariner alive with 140,000 miles on it. Easy driving habits, 3,000 mile oil changes (yes, I’m old school), and always being garage kept have paid off. At this point, I’m looking forward to seeing how far it can go. We rent new cars for vacations, and I am almost always disappointed in them. I don’t like using a computer touch screen to turn on the a/c or adjust the radio – I don’t think its safe to have that much techology in a car – and I’m always happy to return it and get back to normal.

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  7. Dolphin Member

    That’s a real organized junkyard. The one I worked in when I was 15 had cars placed at random on hillsides, under trees, next to boulders…… The only order was when the older areas with the most picked-over cars had to be cleaned out. Then you would see a slow march of oily dirt open up as the hulks got dragged out to make way for newer cars that had just crashed or been sold for junk and still had most of their parts.

    I’m glad to see Jesse’s comment on my own pet-peeve: badly installed aftermarket sound systems. Speaking of that, I just pulled the rats nest of badly spliced-in wires out of the 240Z I’m working on now. Getting the wiring exactly back to where it should be is one of the hardest things to do in a restoration. Now I just have to find a Hitachi AM-only (!) radio for a ’70 Z-car and it’ll be back to where it should be.

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    • Brian

      I’m my younger days, I was completely guilty of the aforementioned hack stereo installs. Looking back on it, I think I though that the wiring harness connectors were like some form of cheating, say nothing of a waste of money. Fortunately, with age comes (some) wisdom. The last stereo install I did not only including the use of a accessory harness connector, but also soldered and srink tubing on each wire joint between the harness connector and the connection wires to the plug that goes into the back of the stereo! 20 year old me would have been so disappointed!

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    • cory thatcher

      Idaho z 208 466-0004 has every part you could ever want for your z

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      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

        Ironically, I stopped by there today. Apparently they are no longer in business and the owner wasn’t very excited to have a visitor.

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  8. Dave

    You just hit on one of my favorite past times. I love going to the junkyard, wether it’s for parts for my vehicles or for someone else. I’ll even go to junkyards just to look around to see if there is something I might need for later. Maybe I’m just weird but if I even see a simple thing wrong with my vehicles, like a missing door pull up lock, I’ll go to the junkyard to get another one.

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  9. jim s

    looks like fun and a nice day for it. nice rows of cars, no having to try to move one car to get to the car you need parts off of. i too do not like aftermarket radios systems, i will use it as a reason to pass on a vehicle. as to the saab, wait till you have to pull the dash on one to get at the heat&/a/c fan motor. keep the updates coming. thanks

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  10. sunbeamdon

    Memories, memories! Back in the day (1960) I had the pleasure of blowing-up my twin bro’s 292CI Ford 60 flathead in his ’40 Merc Cvt with chopped Carson top. Something to do with youth and stupidity (and leaking head gasket). We ended up at a salvage yard in North Vancouver with probably 200 Ford flathead blocks – the deal was – strip the head studs out and check wall thickness; after about 50 blocks we found one that could take the 155 thou’ overbore. More likely than not it had come from a WWII desert running rig with thicker cyl. walls. I did all the porting, polishing and relieving on our work bench using hand-tools. Learned a lot about flatheads as a teen!

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  11. Rancho Bella

    Living in a state of bed wetters (Southern California) do it yourself junk yards have gone with the wind. You get sued just for looking at your neighbors dog incorrectly.

    The GREAT state of Arizona (love the A.Z) has junk yards where they invite you to come in with your family, bring a lunch and spend the day. If I can get my wife to leave me…….I’m moving there.
    Now I ask you……….movies on a Saturday, or, junk yard on a Saturday…….I’m makin’ myself depressed……………….

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    • Chris N

      Tell me about it! Being from Texas originally where there were a large number of salvage yards, moving to NCal was a huge shock for me. There are a few around, but going in is usually a no-no…which I HATE! You have to ask some schmuck at the desk, they look in the computer and usually say ‘nope, dont have it.’ Hey idiot! I can find something that might work! Loosing a sale! I always went in for one or two things and came out with about 10; light bulbs, fuses, odds and ends, whatever… And good luck with finding anything pre 1980.

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    • Paul G

      Funny RB, I’m in Central AZ and the Pick-n-Pull has almost monthly car shows, w/ free swap spaces & tons of free food and raffle drawings. Best part; they waive the $2 admission fee! Next time you’re heading to AZ let me know…

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  12. don

    i had a 1970 van when i was a teen spent many week ends in junk yard in and around otttawa
    one day walk in the yard and there was one like mine after some talking and few beers i towed it home
    stripped it to the bare shell put 4 bald tires on it and towed it back
    after driving it for 20 years i gave it too my buddy who is now rebuilding it again
    love old junk yards

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  13. Gary Fogg

    Hey the leaves are out on the trees there already ? Just starting to bud out here in Maine. Jealous.

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  14. Alan

    OK, now you’ve done it, Jesse!
    The concept of getting to a yard and hunting up items for the fleet has been brewing for a while, and with this additional heat, has come to a rolling boil. Time to load up a tool kit and head out. There are two “Parts Galore” locations that a couple of friends have been using, I guess I’ll be spending some time in one or both in the near future.
    Thanks for the push!

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  15. DT

    I was raised around Watsonville ca. The junk yard I went to piled the cars high, I remember way up on top of one of the piles was an Amphicar!

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  16. sunbeamdon

    DT – and of course it floated there during the previous monsoon!

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  17. Todd Z

    PIck A Part/Stuffyersocks junkyarding is alive and well here in Phoenix although finding good deals on stuff is getting harder all the time. I hate to think of all the hours and hours I’ve spent in the yards here over the past 20 years but it’s good clean fun and I’ve been fortunate to make a fair bit of $$ selling parts I’ve picked.

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  18. Jim-Bob

    Junkyards are an almost weekly ritual for me. I have a circuit of them that I like to run which usually takes me 150-200 miles if I do all of them. It’s a total of 4 u pull it yards that I use in the Tampa Bay area (3 LKQ yards and Big 3 U Pull It) and one of the great reasons to own both a Geo Metro and an old Nissan pickup! Between them I have the ability to economically parts chase with the Metro doing most of the leg work and hauling home all but the biggest of items like axles, engines and transmissions. The big stuff is what the truck is for. Between the two vehicles, they have covered about 650,000 miles (380,000 on the truck). So, junkyards are just a part of daily life for me because they let me run them inexpensively. In fact, I am planning a junkyard run for tomorrow as they just got in a bunch of Metros and a Frontier at one of the yards, so I gotta go look (LKQ’s yards have an online system that shows what cars they get in each day, which helps me see which yard I should go to.). If I go to the one in Tampa, I usually end up hitting the IKEA afterwards for some imitation Swedish meatballs and a chance to see if they have any new bargains I can use for my other project- my house.

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    • Doug M

      Hi Jim-Bob!
      Turn me on to those yards Puleeze! I’m in Naples where the closest thing to a salvage yard is what you find in a trash receptacle downtown. They’ve totally removed any semblance of junkyards here. BTW, I’m looking for ’84 VW Rabbit/GTI stuff if you see anything in your scouring:)
      Doug M

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  19. Catch-n-release (the other Doug M.)

    OK, you guys are ALL “My Heroes!” I thought I was the only one that still got a real charge out of going to the wrecking yards!! We still have some really goood ones here in Oregon and you can browse yourself… Love them. I take a large blue IKEA bag and stuff it with all I can carry and get by for $25-50 bucks! Old Mercedes parts, Volvo, you name it! Love it
    (oh, decided on a new name, since we have 2 Doug M.’s ….but it does NOT refer to fishing! My wife is on me to thin out my collection of cars to restore, so I realized that I do not ever keep long term, but love the hunt… so I am admittedly a “Catch-and -release” kinda guy….)

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  20. Alexander Jenkins

    Salvage yards are heaven to me.

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  21. ConservativesDefeated

    @RanchoBella………get away from the coast and up into the mountains of SD COunty……..we don’t have bedwetters up here :)

    As for junkyards in SoCal there used to be many along the border with Mexico in San Diego, some are .stil there..you can pick your own parts at Ecology but its a little more organzed than the old days. Theres also a truck yard in East County.

    And perhaps the most interesting place though you cant pick your own parts off the cars.its already done for you,is a BMW yard in suburban El Cajon….which is basically hell on earth.

    Owned by two of the straigtest guys in a really bent business, Autobahn, is a Beemer nut’s heaven.

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    • Rancho Bella

      I almost had me 10 flat acres in Descanso but the realtor was a flake (realtors flakey? shocking) .

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      • ConservativesDefeated

        Come on up…….plenty of land for sale.how much could be zoned commercial I dunno :)

        But the air is clean!

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  22. ConservativesDefeated

    that should be straightest……

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  23. Rick

    All this junkyard talk made me think of my favoriteold junkyard, long gone of course, A-1 in Woodinville about 15 miles NW of Seattle. Due to religious reasons (not sure what denomination) they were closed Saturdays, but open Sundays (only place around open on Sunday) . Started going there regularly in ’71, doors were $3 and fenders were $2. Similar pricing for brake drums and alternators. Lots of junk cars in piles, big mud puddles. Rows of complete old Ramblers that still ran when brought in. I remember seeing a rusty pale green ’54 Buick Skylark with a really ugly rear quarter in there briefly on its way to the crusher, most of its chrome already gone. That car would have been rescued today. Also remember an old 58-60 Corvette, what was left of it anyway (not much). I once bought an Olds J-2 Tripower complete w/ air cleaner, carbs and linkage for $10, took it right off of the wrecked ’58 88 hardtop. Also bought a Corvette hubcap for fifty cents (I had a ’60 Corvette at the time). Anyhow, the office was in the center of the yard, and if you were really sneaky you could wind your way through the piles of junk cars and get out without paying for your parts – the folks that ran it (think they were two brothers and a sister) wouldn’t do anything to try and stop you, because they figured if you were willing to steal the parts you must have needed them pretty bad.

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  24. davew833

    Self- service junkyards are a relatively new phenomenon in Utah where I live. We have 3-4 of them in the area and I think they’re great. Sometimes I’ll just pay the $1 admission fee to go in and walk around to see whatever interesting cars there are. I’m not crazy about continuously- rising prices that are coming close to what full-service yards charge, but there are sale days, coupons, membership cards, etc., that make the prices reasonable. I like knowing what the price of something will be up- front without having to negotiate with someone who might base their pricing on any number of whims or factors besides what’s fair.

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