Car Mechanics (UK)

Break­ing Cat B write-offs

We try a new scheme by Copart and U-pull-it to har­vest a BMW E39 540i Tour­ing for spare parts.

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For the DIY me­chanic, find­ing spare parts for older cars can be an ex­pen­sive busi­ness. Buy­ing a re­place­ment part di­rect from the man­u­fac­turer can of­ten cost more than the ve­hi­cle is worth and scrap­yards have got wise to the fact that sup­ply­ing spares can be a lu­cra­tive side­line, par­tic­u­larly if cer­tain parts are found to be in short sup­ply.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity is a new scheme by Copart (copart.co.uk) called Breaker­bid4u, where the com­pany will place bids for you for a Cat­e­gory B write-off at auction, after which you can strip the ve­hi­cle for parts at a U-pull-it work­shop (u-pull-it.co.uk/breaker­bid-4-u) be­fore they de­stroy the ve­hi­cle. Copart cur­rently have six lo­ca­tions where you can buy a ve­hi­cle and break it on-site. The most con­ve­nient are York and In­verkei­thing, just north of Ed­in­burgh, which both have a U-pull-it next door. The Copart branches at Sand­wich, Wolver­hamp­ton, Chester and Rochford don’t, but ve­hi­cles can be dis­man­tled in spe­cial work­shop bays. If you buy a ve­hi­cle at any of the other Copart branches you’ll then need to trans­port the ve­hi­cle to one of those six, but it’s not es­pe­cially cheap: mov­ing a ve­hi­cle from Sandtoft to York would be £84.

CM asked Copart to bid on our be­half for a 1999 BMW E39 540i Tour­ing auto. Fin­ished in Biar­ritz Blue Metal­lic, this would have been some ma­chine 20 years ago and would have cost a for­tune when new: full leather in­te­rior, elec­tric heated com­fort seats with mem­ory, TV satel­lite-nav­i­ga­tion, a built-in car­phone, 17-inch BBS split-rim al­loys and a hi-fi speaker set-up. Of course, most of the tech is use­less now and, given the com­plex­ity of retro-fitting such stuff, you wouldn’t bother, but the var­i­ous mod­ules are use­ful for re­pair­ing an ex­ist­ing sys­tem and those al­loy wheels were tempt­ing.

‘V480 HJN’ had been on the road un­til re­cently, but its life was ended by a front cor­ner shunt se­vere enough to rip off the near­side front strut and dam­age the A-post, so the door wouldn’t open and close. It wasn’t re­pairable and, with 150,000 miles on the clock, wasn’t worth do­ing any­way.

Buy­ing

We’d spot­ted the car at Copart York’s web­site, which meant we could strip the car at U-pull-it in York. We worked out that we needed to be pay­ing no more than £500 for it to be eco­nom­i­cally vi­able. As with all car auc­tions, there are fees and VAT on top of the win­ning bid. A £500 bid would thus in­cur a £65 auction fee, £7.50 in­ter­net fee, £12.50 load fee and £100 to rent the U-pull-it bay and have the en­gine pulled, which with the VAT added up to £825. We reck­oned we could re­coup our ex­penses sell­ing on any parts har­vested from the ve­hi­cle.

We filled in the form, sent it off and our bid was regis­tered. Like any Copart auction, your bid is fi­nal and can­not be re­tracted, so make sure you re­ally want it. Matters were sim­pli­fied be­cause we al­ready had an ac­count with Copart, which costs £45 per year. If you’re not a Copart mem­ber, it’s more ex­pen­sive: you need to send copies of ID and a £250 de­posit a day or two be­fore the auction, while the U-pull-it bay rental is twice the mem­ber rate at £240.

On the day of the auction, the hammer fell at £479.50, well within our bud­get. Hav­ing paid for the car, we then rang the Breaker­bid4u helpline and booked a slot at U-pull-it York to tear the 540i to bits the fol­low­ing Tues­day.

Go­ing to pieces

One of the Breaker­bid4u scheme’s stip­u­la­tions for strip­ping a car is that you only have one work­ing day to strip the ve­hi­cle, which means you need to get ev­ery­thing done be­tween 8.00am and 5.00pm. Hav­ing rented a Ford Tran­sit the previous day, we aimed to get to York by 8.30am to make a start.

U-pull-it had de­pol­luted the BMW and placed it on tres­tles – welded-to­gether steel wheels – ready to start the strip­down.

As we were plan­ning to re­sell the M62 V8 en­gine, we be­gan by un­bolt­ing the bon­net for more ac­cess, fol­lowed by the front panel and the sin­gle head­light re­main­ing fol­low­ing the ac­ci­dent. Next to be re­moved were the air­con con­denser, fan and ra­di­a­tor. Dis­con­nect­ing the en­gine loom from the ECU was easy, as was de­tach­ing the var­i­ous coolant hoses and earth straps, with the aim of drop­ping the whole en­gine and au­to­box down on the sub­frame.

While emp­ty­ing the spare wheel well of its cargo, we found there was still a bat­tery at­tached. This was a stroke of luck be­cause it meant we could power the front seats back and forth to ac­cess the four re­tain­ing Torx bolts, as well as check the seat func­tions.

With the seats out, we went at the in­te­rior with a screw­driver. We weren’t plan­ning to keep the in­te­rior as it would take up too much room, so we sim­ply pulled up the car­pets, re­moved all the mod­ules and cut the wiring plugs as far down the loom as we could.

The M-sport rear bumper was off in no time, fol­lowed by the wheels.

We’d brought along a full set of BMW lock­ing wheel bolt keys just in case, but the cor­rect key was sit­ting in the ash­tray. The nearly-new rear brake discs were saved, along with the calipers, the one good front caliper and the rear sus­pen­sion air pump. We left the airbags on – they’re only £80 a pair new on ebay, so we’d be un­likely to find any­one look­ing for se­cond­hand ones.

By noon, the wheels, seats, mod­ules, lights, rear bumper, speedo clus­ter and sat-nav screen were out on the floor. Hav­ing ad­ver­tised ear­lier that we were break­ing this BMW E39, a guy from Leeds had al­ready asked us to get him a rear door. This one turned out to be dead straight and the right colour, net­ting an easy £50 sim­ply for undoing four 13mm nuts and a wiring plug!

By 3.00pm we were ready for the en­gine to be dropped out. U-pull-it’s me­chan­ics were in­cred­i­bly help­ful and used their fork­lift to shift the car into the work bay, where the power unit was dropped out, the ex­haust re­moved (they keep the cat­alytic con­vert­ers) and the power unit on the sub­frame brought back out again. We un­bolted the gear­box from the en­gine and the torque con­verter from the drive­plate/fly­wheel, pulling the box off with the con­verter, thus avoid­ing an oil slick. The en­gine was lifted off the sub­frame and the Ser­votronic steer­ing box re­moved.

By 4.00pm, we had loaded ev­ery­thing into the Tran­sit van and were ready to head home – and work out how on earth we were go­ing to lift an M62 V8 en­gine out of the back of the van again with­out the ben­e­fit of a crane!

Sell­ing on

Any prof­its you make on sell­ing car parts will vary and ob­vi­ously not ev­ery­thing will sell overnight. We chose this 540i be­cause they are quite un­com­mon and are now valu­able enough to be worth fix­ing and keep­ing on the road, whereas a 525i wouldn’t be. The aim was to make enough profit for the al­loys to be re­stored, leav­ing us with a free set of BBS Style 5’s with new tyres.

The prices we could rea­son­ably ex­pect to achieve from all of the parts we har­vested were:

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Although we didn’t keep much of the in­te­rior, the rear car­pets and much of the trim was quickly re­moved to get at var­i­ous con­trol mod­ules.
Although we didn’t keep much of the in­te­rior, the rear car­pets and much of the trim was quickly re­moved to get at var­i­ous con­trol mod­ules.
 ??  ?? The M62 V8 was care­fully dis­con­nected be­fore U-pull-it me­chan­ics re­moved it. Check be­fore­hand, though, that the staff will re­move the en­gine once you’ve dis­con­nected ev­ery­thing!
The M62 V8 was care­fully dis­con­nected be­fore U-pull-it me­chan­ics re­moved it. Check be­fore­hand, though, that the staff will re­move the en­gine once you’ve dis­con­nected ev­ery­thing!
 ??  ?? A hefty front cor­ner im­pact brought this BMW 540i Tour­ing’s life to an abrupt end.
A hefty front cor­ner im­pact brought this BMW 540i Tour­ing’s life to an abrupt end.
 ??  ?? The rea­son we bought this Cat B wreck – a set of 17-inch Style 5 BBS split rim al­loys. Luck­ily there was a spare wheel, too.
The rea­son we bought this Cat B wreck – a set of 17-inch Style 5 BBS split rim al­loys. Luck­ily there was a spare wheel, too.
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