No, this isn’t the same as dumpster diving.
For one, it’s legal. Secondly, you probably won’t find anything new in a junkyard, like you could in a dumpster. What will you find? A seemingly endless source of inexpensive car parts and unusual finds. Yes, it might look intimidating. Yes, it might require you to wear some dirtier clothes and crawl around through piles of scrap and vehicles. But, there’s a reason everyone from gear-heads to penny-pinchers end up visiting their local junkyards. It’s magical the way you can find parts for your used car, regardless of its model year. You could have a car that’s either 20+ years old or two years old, and still potentially find something. If the junkyard is big enough that is, and if you have a little bit of luck on your side…
Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll find anything of use to you, but that’s the only downside of this adventure. Honestly, you have a pretty good shot of finding what you’re looking for. When you do, it’s usually dirt cheap compared to purchasing new from a manufacturer or parts store.
Two Types of Junkyards
There are two type of junkyards kicking around in the good ol’ U.S. of A. You can choose either a “you-pick,” or “full-service” set up.
With a you-pick junkyard, you’ll end up bringing your own tools and personally raiding the junkyard. Wrestling the parts you need from the cold, dead, figurative hands of a now-dead vehicle.
A full-service junkyard will end up pulling any parts or items you request when visiting (or after calling in an order), and then deliver them to the front desk, where you’ll be waiting. You’ll collect the part there, and the junkyard owner will expect payment for the part and a “convenience fee” for grabbing the item on your behalf.
My personal preference would be the DIY junkyard, but I have some mechanical knowledge and can get by with a wrench just fine. Therefore, it would be fun for me to go play around in a junkyard. If you aren’t comfortable with a wrench or just don’t like getting your hands dirty, then the full-service option is for you. Keep in mind, that will come with added costs.
Whatever one you choose, make sure it’s a big one. The more vehicles there are, the increased odds you have of finding the car part or accessory you need.
Here’s What to Expect
When you first pass through the gates, you’ll have to sign a document before setting foot on the grounds. This absolves the junkyard of any liability in case you hurt yourself in a stupid manner. Like, for example, carelessly dropping an engine on your foot. After that, you might have to pay an entry fee, or you might not. Some places charge some places don’t. But, that entry fee is usually less than a cup of coffee.
After that, you’ll learn what type of vehicles the junkyard sells. If you need to find this out beforehand, call ahead of time and talk to them. Some specialize in anything that comes on the market, but some only take in domestic brands, while others target Japanese, German, high-performance, vintage, etc. So, you’ll most likely want to call ahead and tell them the model you need parts for.
Modern junkyards don’t put price tags on the part. Instead, they have a list of the different parts and the generic prices for each, which means a radiator from a Chevy will likely cost the same as a radiator from a BMW, simply because it’s the same part. This means that savings can be staggering compared to buying from the manufacturer or auto parts store.
This almost sounds like a dream, right? Well, it’s not. It’s just a junkyard.