Darren McIntosh
Darren McIntosh Graham Harsant

One man's trash... is a wrecker's treasure

SIXTY odd years ago Harry Robinson saw an opportunity and that was to collect trucks that had had a shunt, put them all in one place, strip them down and flog off the parts to those who didn't want, or couldn't afford to pay top dollar for replacement parts.

The business is Universal Truck Wreckers, more commonly known as UTW, based in Shepparton, Victoria.

Under its present owners for the past 25 years, UTW is part of the Shepparton Motor Panel Group, which also owns Coburg Truck Parts in Melbourne (new parts only), Gleeman's in Sydney (new and used) And Universal Komatsu Wreckers.

Set on two hectares, UTW handles Kenworth, Freightliner, Ford, Western Star, International, Iveco, a bit of Mack and a little bit of Volvo. The business employs two dismantlers, two mechanics and three sales guys.

IN THE WORKSHOP: Mechanics Reece and Zac check over things before sale.
IN THE WORKSHOP: Mechanics Reece and Zac check over things before sale. Graham Harsant

Salesman Brad Payne has been with the business for 18 years.

"We sell anything to do with American truck parts, basically anything retrievable off the trucks,” he said. "We would say we are the largest in Australia. There is competition but that's in Brisbane, Sydney and Wagga.

"That's pretty much it along the eastern seaboard. There may be others but they are relatively small. There wouldn't be anything that anyone couldn't buy.

"The motors are pulled out of the trucks and gone over by our qualified mechanics. We pull the sump off, check the mains and big ends and run them on our test bed. We also offer other motors which are fully refurbished.”

At its peak, the business was bringing in 300 trucks a year for dismantling.

"It's dropped off a little on that, possibly due to blokes taking more care out on the road.”

Most of the product comes in via tender through insurance companies.

UTW has it all
UTW has it all Graham Harsant

There are also auctions - mainly Pickles and Fowles - and the business has a contract with an insurance company that they get a few through.

Most business is done over the internet these days.

The business runs lean and mean with a total of seven people.

"There are days when you could use another few blokes,” Brad said. "And then there are other times we could have one bloke less but that's not often.

"The clientele is anyone with a truck. We don't do a lot with major fleets, it's mainly the smaller operators and owner- drivers.

"A lot of our gear is freighted out intra-and interstate - a lot more than we sell directly out of the yard. We sent motors and gear boxes right around the country.”

UTW has it all.
UTW has it all. Graham Harsant

Darren McIntosh runs the yard and also does sales. He started as a diesel mechanic in the shed after nine years in the same role with Roccisano Transport and has been with the business for 23 years.

From where I was standing and talking with Darren, the trucks we viewed looked in reasonable nick.

There was a Freightliner Argosy that had probably shunted another truck up the backside resulting in the bull bar being shoved back into the body - although not by much.

On closer inspection, Darren pointed out where the floor pan crumpled, the main cab support was also shot, putting the truck beyond repair.

UTW has it all
UTW has it all Graham Harsant

To UTW though, the truck is money in the bank. There's the motor, gearbox, fold-out steps, headlights, wiring, interior fit-out - even the bull bar could be resurrected.

"Putting the good ones at the front makes the yard look flash,” Darren said.

As we moved further into the yard there were some mangled sites to behold. One could only wonder if the drivers survived the accidents that bought the truck to this place.

"There are brands that tend to fold up pretty good in an accident. They look tough on the road but, when you get them in here, there's not much holding them together.

"Have a look at the way this is put together (showing me a mangled cab). There are only six studs and glue holding the bunk together with the rest of the truck.

"Kenworth cabs are made of fibreglass and aluminium but seem to hold up pretty well. With any truck it depends how they go over, of course. Onto the sides and there's not a lot of damage. Onto the roof and, if you can, forget it. The powers that be are obsessed by star ratings on cars but, for some reason, no-one gives a rat's arse about the truck side of things.

"In my opinion the European trucks are way ahead in safety terms. Volvo and Scania are well ahead compared to American trucks going by what we see here. Mind you it all depends what you hit.”

Universal Truck Wreckers
Universal Truck Wreckers

Darren shows me a truck that had run into a gum tree.

"When you hit something like that it really doesn't matter what you're driving. Mother nature is usually going to win,” he said.

"Some trucks we sell complete, others we sell for bits. We make use of everything. Unsaleable parts go into the steel or aluminium bins. We pull all the wiring out of the cabs and sell it separately after running it through a wire stripper to get the coating off. It adds up to quite a lot of copper.”

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