How to Have a Great Time in the Salvage Yard

Salvage yards are all over the country, and can offer vehicles as different as ancient ‘20s iron, to last year’s hot new supercar. Whether you are looking to repair your daily driver, or just find good deals to resell on eBay, here are some tips on how to have a successful salvage yard run.



It’s usually good advice to follow the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Before heading into an unknown yard, do a little bit of prep work. Looking for a water pump for your old Geo Metro? Find out what they cost. Check with a local dealer, then a discount online retailer like Rock Auto, and finally see what they cost used on eBay. This will give you an idea on pricing, and let you know if the yard’s asking price is right on, too high, or a steal.

Be sure your tool bag is good to go. I like a heavy duty backpack, but a large tool bag works as well. Just remember you might be carrying it for quite a walk before finding the right car. At a minimum you will need: socket wrench and full socket set (usually just metric these days), torx bits, flathead and Philips screwdrivers, wire cutters, plyers, and flashlight for inside or under the vehicle.

Optional tools I find useful: gloves (some of these cars are nasty), ratcheting wrenches (I’m lazy), a jug full of Gatorade (you might be in there a few hours), a smartphone (to check prices or parts removal tips), and a friend (to do half the work!).


In the yard

Even if you pay for everything with plastic, you will need a couple dollars in cash for the entry fee. Most yards are under five dollars, and some are as low as one. Check the price board before heading in. The board lists most vehicle components and their prices. Pay attention to the core charge, as at checkout it can make what you thought was a screaming deal into just an okay deal. Most yards charge about a hundred bucks for a supercharger or turbocharger, which is a pretty good deal. However, the higher the price of the core charge, that refurbished unit on eBay with free shipping starts to look pretty good.

Most salvage yards are organized by the classifications of domestic, import, truck. Within those sectors the yard may, or may not, further divide the yard according to manufacturer. All the Fords, Mercurys, Lincolns in one section of the domestic yard, with GM and Mopar in other sections. Imports, regardless of manufacturer or country of origin, are usually lumped together.

Also. You will notice the pricing is a little weird at times. As mentioned earlier, the prices are a flat rate for item, meaning a complete long block could cost you $150, no matter what it is. Geo Metro 1.0 liter 3 cylinder? $150. BMW E38 5.4 liter V12? $150. This means you might be looking at a screaming deal, or kind of a bad deal. Again, check the price board.


Rules and Etiquette

A couple of things will seem kinda weird on your first time in a yard. First off, know that the yard makes money by selling scrap, so selling parts is just a bonus income for them. They don’t have to let you in, and they don’t need to sell parts. What this means for you is that you should respect their property. Even though the cars are basically junk, don’t cause extra damage on purpose. I’ve seen YouTube videos of idiot teenagers smashing windshields of salvage cars, just because they can. Imagine how frustrating that must be for a picker to find the car they need, find the part they need, but find it needlessly damaged by some idiot. Don’t be that guy. Some damage to hoses or wiring is likely to occur when removing parts, and that’s fine, but leave the rest in good shape for others.

Don’t be a hero and pull that engine by yourself. Have a friend help, and you can usually borrow cherry pickers, engine stands, and wheelbarrows or carts for no extra cost. Do it right, and do it the safe way.

Also, clean up after yourself. If you make trash, take it out, or drop it in one of the many trash cans. If you need a restroom, don’t go in that old empty Dodge van. Most yards have portable toilets, and some even let you use the nice restrooms in the buildings. Don’t be a dingus, use them.

Last, have the right mentality. You won’t find your parts every time. If you are looking for heavily picked over cars, like Mustangs, you will most likely not be able to find what you need. However, a salvage yard can be more than just work. You’re outdoors in the fresh air, walking among thousands of wrecks, each with a story to tell, and there is the potential for automotive treasure if you’re paying attention. Aim to have a good time, and you will.

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