Working hard, one car at a time

COSTA MESA — He's come a long way from Tehran, literally and figuratively.

But after living in California for slightly more than a decade, Hamid Afrasibi has finally found the American Dream inside the Costa Mesa Auto Dismantlers on Placentia Avenue, where he wheels and deals in used auto parts.

"But you have to work like a horse to live here … your life has to be all work and no play," said Afrasibi, 49, an auto mechanic by trade who buys junkers from customers who just want to get rid of their vehicles.

He then either fixes them or sells off their parts piece by piece, offering an affordable alternative to the much more expensive new parts sold at auto dealerships.

"If a car is good for its parts, then I chop it," said Afrasibi, a native speaker of Farsi who in the course of 10 years has become proficient in the English, not to mention the slang of the auto trade.

He also knows some Spanish, something that's convenient — if not an outright necessity — because the vast majority of his customers are Spanish-speaking immigrants who wind up at his store in search of bumpers, blinkers, air conditioners and old engines.

Afrasibi is one of an estimated 500,000 Iranians believed to be living and working in the Greater Los Angeles area. An estimated 200,000 Persians are in Orange County.

Outside of Iran, the United States is home to the second largest Iranian population. According to the 2000 Census, there were roughly 338,000 Iranian Americans living in the U.S., although that number is believed to be low, according to the Network of Iranian-American Professionals of Orange County.

Their exodus here largely resulted from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and many have since become doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers and peace officers, the network said.

The more recently arrived immigrants like Afrasibi, however, are still struggling to get by. For the time being, though, they've seemed to have found a niche in the smaller businesses — a career path that isn't uncommon among the legions of immigrants who know the value of a dollar.

That's not to say Afrasibi doesn't get business from the well-to-do: Many an owner of a Lexus or a Mercedes or even a Lamborghini have sought out Afrasibi, although the repairs are sometimes much harder to resolve when they involve electrical problems, he acknowledged.

Just the other day, he said he bought a 2001 A6 Audi for $600 after the owner told him that dealerships were saying it was going to cost him $12,000 to fix.

"We'll see how fast these parts go," said Afrasibi, pointing to the German import on his lot, which is chock full of rims, engines and clunkers that have now found their ultimate resting place until they find a new home inside an old jalopy.

For six years, Afrasibi has been doing business at his 2075 Placentia Ave. shop, which he bought with the help of co-owner Albert Khanzadeh for $400,000 in 2004.

A dentist by trade, Khanzadeh, also an Iranian, met Afrasibi through a mutual friend, and pitched Afrasibi the idea of going into business.

Since that day, the business has had its ups and downs, but not once has Afrasibi thought it was a bad idea to come to America, even if he had to live in the back room of a used auto dealership in Compton for six months while working as a mechanic.

"I can fix just about anything," Afrasibi said. "And I'll buy just about anything. If you've got a car that you want to get rid of, you just come to me, and I will give you cash for it."

Costa Mesa Auto Dismantlers

Address: 2075 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

Phone: (949) 548-7013

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