Junkyard Etiquette

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One thing that I often recommend is to go to the U-pull yard for parts. But I have found people often have an aversion to junkyards. Bad experiences I’ve found to be rare. I’ve had far more good ones. There are many benefits and myths about junkyards and I hope to touch on most of them. (I will use junk and salvage interchangeably, I know ‘junk’ offends some proprietors, but I think it should be embraced)

One thing I’ve found is that people are afraid to go to a junkyard. Junkyards are often located in industrial areas or in bad part of town or in some other place where they can exist. This is just the nature of the society we live in. It hates junk, but given the number of shows about “junk” on TV today the junker undercurrent must be far stronger than I ever expected it to be. I suppose Fred Sanford said it right, “It’s a world full of junk”. But I digress. Because of this people think junkyards are full of unsavory people. I’ve found the opposite to be true. By and large I’ve found salvage yards to be very friendly places. If there are unsavory people, they are then on their best behavior at the yard. Most people will help each other (within reason, don’t ask someone to spend an afternoon helping you pull an engine) in self service yard as well.

Unhelpful staff and owners… well I’ve run into them. One yard, the first I ever visited, had been in business since they were neighbors to my great grandfather’s business back in the 1930s. They were a full service yard and really had no desire to sell me the part I needed. I sometimes think they might have become a front for some other not so legal operations over the years as well. Both because of their unfriendly counter manner but old family stories. They have since been bought out by an insurance yard, no longer open to the public. But in most cases I’ve found junkyard staff to be friendly so long as you, as a customer, know the rules. But what are the rules…

First, no cash refunds. No yard I know has cash refunds. Only store credit. If you get the wrong part it doesn’t work they’ll give you a credit. I’ve had this happen. Got a credit, used it. Never had a problem that way. What’s in the lot? Self serve yards do not keep track for the customer. Not even by make and model. That’s just the way it is. The first yard that innovates here will probably get some extra business, but part of the self serve is that it’s a hunt. Full serve is on-line. Go to car-part.com and find the part you want anywhere in the US or Canada. The way to deal with this is to go when you have parts for a variety of cars on your list. You’re more likely to find one this way.

Don’t go to the self serve looking for things for your 5 year old car (unless you can use the same parts from a 12 year old version of it). Junk yards keep the most recent model years in their full serve businesses where they can get maximum profit. If a car is ten years old or more and a domestic then you’ll have decent chances in the self serve. Imports, more like 12-15 years. Popular cars like Mustangs, expect them to be mostly stripped before they got to the yard or because someone got to them before you. Know your interchange. In my most recent trip I took the part I needed for my Mustang from a Cougar. I came prepared with the Ford part numbers I was looking for and found a match on the same year cougar.

Admission. Yes. Many self serves charge $1-2 admission. I am not sure why. It’s trivial if you find what you are looking for, it stings if you don’t. It’s their rules. If you can find one that doesn’t go there instead if you don’t want to gamble with $2. Understanding these things and the price list will prevent problems.

There is also some junkyard etiquette, but it is simple. First, behave yourself. Most everyone understands this. The one some people don’t understand is… Do not destroy parts you don’t want. Someone might be looking for that. I’ve found the part I wanted or could use destroyed too many times because someone busted it to get to another part. That’s about it.

Haggling…it’s allowed at some yards some of the time. If it’s a special day, forget it. They’ve already reduced pricing. I’ve had some luck by when parts were more than I expected (largely because I found more than I expected) I asked if they took a credit cards. He came down in price to make it a cash sale. If it’s an old time yard where you had to go back into the weeds and it’s been run by the same guy for the last 50 years, haggle. It’s part of the business. Be willing to put the part back where you found it.

Now the benefits of going to the self serve junkyard.

The biggest benefit is price. Self serve yards sell parts by what they are, not what they came out of. There is no premium for hard to find parts. An alternator is an alternator. A side window is a side window. My recent trip yielded me a Ford service intake manifold with the aluminum cross over for my ’97 Mustang, price list for a plastic manifold, $25. But I went on half price tuesday, more on that later. This part is now essentially very hard to find new. Dealers want $500 or more for it, which is why my mustang currently wears an aftermarket manifold.

Special days. If you can swing it, you can really save by going on the day of week business is slow. Self serve yards often have days where prices are reduced or there are various other specials. Yards in my area usually have once or twice a year events where it is all-you-can-carry for a set price. These are fun days just to watch people at the yard. See someone do a Philo Beddoe and carry an entire engine across the line to get it for $40. Ok, it’s usually two people, and the charge doubles for that. I have occasionally scored well at all-you can carry days. I have an inventory of spare parts for my Maverick from all you can carry days. I even got a set of disc brake spindles off a Monarch on one such day.

Spare little parts is what is really great about the self-serve. I’ve learned over the years that the yards have absolutely no concern for small items like fasteners and such. Things that don’t even make it to their price list. I keep every fastener I remove from parts I buy. They’ve come in handy many times. Sometimes I put them in my tool case/box/bag but mostly I just thread them into the holes they came out of and put them on the counter with the part. I’ve never been charged for them.

Practice is a big benefit. In pulling the part from the junkyard car, you’ve just learned how to do it on your car. You’ve learned the hard parts and if you accidentally broke something, it didn’t cost you anything.

Surveying to find the right thing for your project. Looking to modify or customize a car? There’s a yard full to look to see what has something you can use. Measure to your heart’s content.

The negatives… well there aren’t many. Some yards are disorganized. Others stack the cars or let them sit in the mud. These are yards of last resort. All of them I have never been back to a second a time. Just not worth it. The good yards sort the cars and put them up on jackstands made of old steel wheels or at least have them sit on their wheels on solid ground. Ground that has been compacted and covered with gravel. Working out in the weather… this can be bad if you have to go in bad weather. There isn’t anything else I can think of here.

Oh, I did forget one last thing… By going to the junk yard you are now greener than most self identified environmentalists. The junkyard is a place where nearly everything gets recycled, much of it for full value. Not just the material, the entire part goes back into service. The junk yard, the place attacked from so many directions is and will continue to be one of the greenest businesses around.

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

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