Scrap yards in the advanced markets are a source to get rid of an old, unwanted vehicle. The rules laid down by the European Union authorizes scrap yards to dispose of vehicles, pull them apart in the way that is the least demanding on environment. Rather than abandon their vehicles in a remote country side, owners have to give them to the scrap yard, and obtain a certificate, which has to be taken to the police so that the vehicles records are deleted. Of the vehicles that are pulled down, scrap yards keep a meticulous record. Most are turned into parts. If not, at least the good and usable parts are salvaged, and offered for less than the price of a new part. Clearly classified as used parts, these come to the rescue of the vehicle owner who is finding to procure a certain spare as new, or is finding it too expensive.
The Indian version of a scrap yard is called the ‘Kabadi bazaar’. It is more popularly called as the ‘chor bazaar’, which can roughly translate to the Chop Shop as it is known elsewhere in the world. It is a well oiled hub-and-spoke arrangement made up of agents, garage owners, small ‘Kabadi’ shops, and the main market – the spoke, which is referred to as the ‘chor bazaar’ – a place where most vehicles finally end up, and are pulled apart. ‘Chor bazaars’ are found in almost every city and town. The bigger ones are known to exist in the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Meerut, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai. Smaller ones, yet no less enterprising, are found in cities like Pune, Nagpur, Lucknow, etc.
Vehicle parts apart, these ‘bazaars’ sell almost anything under the sun. From an ancient gramophone to the latest set of shoes, they turn to be a source for what is almost impossible to get. What has got such ‘bazaars’ the nick name ‘chor bazaar’ is hard to figure out. It has perhaps to do with the sources, which keep the supply from drying up. The vehicle ‘chor bazaar’ makes an important section of what has become a capable alternative to affording what is otherwise unaffordable. It is the place to look for when an auto part is hard to come by, or is seemingly unaffordable. Arguably a last resort for many, and for critical parts like engines, gearboxes, turbos, and more, the automotive ‘chor bazaars’ in India operate under a business principle that is not clearly defined. The sources, as mentioned above, are impossible to figure out. They could be ‘kabadi’ (old mart) shops that are found at every nook and corner of a city. They could be traders clearing stock of parts of vehicles those demand has dried up. While it is said that vehicles impounded by cops also end up at these ‘bazaars’, the most surprising as well as interesting bit about these ‘bazaars’, and what has perhaps earned it the nick name ‘chor bazaar’ is the ability to pull apart cars that have been launched a few years ago; are still in production, and do not seem to have suffered any damage. If they are stolen, there’s no way to ascertain. The sources are well under wrap, and beyond any prying eyes.
A darling of many vehicle owners, restorers, and those who are simply looking for a cost effective way of maintaining their faithful stead, the parts that come out of these ‘bazaars’ are used. They may work, or may not. There is no guarantee. Much depends on the ‘equation’ the buyer has with the seller. Capable of being a source for complete vintage cars like a prized Ford Model T, an old Rolls Royce, or an old dilapidated Ambassador, the way the system works at these ‘chor bazaars’ is beyond the purview of many. Displaying jaw dropping scenes of pricey cars being pulled apart with little mercy; cars like BMW and Mercedes Benz, the automotive ‘chor bazaars’ of India are truly sensational. Hardly governed by laws that ensure little impact on the environment, the ‘chor bazaars’ of India pulls apart pricey cars as well as junks in the open. In complete public view, as if exercising its power to swallow whatever comes its way.
Parts are sold as the need arises. The economics often working such that a group of traders, scrap merchants, buy the vehicle to be pulled apart; mark the parts that they would want, and sell it once the same reaches their shop. Sources of spares, or vehicles, which seem fit to lead a healthy life on the road for the next decade at least, are hard to come by. Information is concealed under a maze of transactions. The seller often not aware of the source himself, or pretending at his best to not know where certain spare came from. Persistent inquiries are met with stern refusals. Use of abusive language is not a distant dream – even threats. A sense of notoriety prevails for certain. A maze of tiny shops arranged across streets making it difficult to venture in and out is how a typical automotive ‘chor bazaar’ looks.
It is often filthy and unsafe. Yet it is a place where a rare Veglia instrument panel from an old Fiat 1100 can be seen hanging on a rickety shop door. A bonnet logo of an old Dodge Kingsway car, or a shiny cylinder head of a Maruti Dzire diesel engine! Such is the ability of the automotive ‘chor bazaars’ of India, that they can put together a new vehicle. Had it not been for the regulations, these ‘bazaars’ would have been a replica of the early attempts at vehicle building. About driving hard bargains, the parts at these ‘bazaars’ are often bought at one-third the price quoted for a new part. Tail lamps, head lamps, gearboxes, tyres, bumpers and engines joust for space among stacks of vehicle doors and heaps of wires. The seemingly tiny shops could qualify for an art form, what with stacks of parts rising right up to the roof, the seller and his men left with barely enough space to launch themselves to search for a part whose demand has been made.
Rear shock absorbers of a Fiat Palio could be had at Rs 800 a pair at Kurla (Mumbai). New ones in the Opera House market cost Rs 2500. An Innova door at Soti Ganj (Meerut) could be had for Rs 4000. A new door costs Rs 20000 approximately. Often chock-a-block with customers, the automotive ‘chor bazaars’ of India draw people from faraway places. People who could be looking for a brake piston for a 1973 Ambassador, a gearbox for a 1960 Mahindra CJ, or tyres for a 1942 World War II Willys Jeep.
If the automotive ‘chor bazaars’ make a place where vehicles are put to rest, the same is not true. Vehicles come back to life with parts sourced from the ‘bazaars’. Coated in fresh paint, fitted with shiny alloy wheels and often, powered by new engines. Consider for example the Soti Ganj market of Meerut. Claimed to be Asia’s largest car scrap market, it has shops doubling up as warehouses. They are endless reservoirs of spare parts for old and new vehicles.
Sources at the market claim that vehicles involved in an accident are procured from insurance companies – as far away as from Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal. After settling claims, these vehicles, beyond repair, are sold to scrap dealers for up to 75% less than a vehicle’s original price. Decommissioned Mahindra jeeps and Maruti Gypsys found at the Mayapuri market at Delhi are procured in bulk from police departments and cantonments. While most of these vehicles are broken down and parts sold separately, some do find their way to those who restore them to their pristine glory.
Such is the link between many workshops and these ‘bazaars’ across India that a part will travel from Mumbai to an obscure workshop in the interior of Saurasthra, or Marwar. In a display of passion for automobiles, the knowledge of traders, and their ability to retrieve a part belonging to a 1914 automobile, or a 2011 luxury SUV is simply astonishing. And this market is not just about cars and SUVs, two wheelers, three wheelers, and commercial vehicles are as much a subject to enthusiastic activity in these bazaars. Complete chassis, engine, gearbox, etc., are available. May it be an old Chevrolet truck, or a Tata Mercedes Benz model that rolled out of the Pune factory in 1952, spares for the same are available. If not, they will be made available. Sources, divided into genuine and dubious, include old vehicles that are more than eight years old – vehicles that have met with an accident, or have been bought at government auctions.
If the markets like the one at Meerut witnessing a rise in activity during elections as politicians and their party men line up to pick up Jeeps and Gypsys at a lower cost, in the markets of Mumbai and Delhi, it is the DIY types, and those who can afford a new Jeep, or Gypsy, but want one that they can customise easily. With the spares of new generation vehicles costing more, the ‘chor bazaars’ of India make for a tempting place to visit. They are clearly not a dependable source, neither are they a transparent source for spares. They are however a popular destination for many – when the need for a critical part arises.
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