Junkyard Jewels: 13 Tips for Scrapyard Parts Scrounging

Cars Lined Up in a Junkyard

(All Images/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

Going to a junkyard is gearhead rite-of-passage.

Whether it’s to save money, source rare parts, or repurpose components for a custom build, every experienced wrencher has made at least one trip to a scrapyard.

A junkyard is essentially a big field filled with wrecked vehicles that you pay money to remove parts from. Everything on the vehicle is up for grabs—including complete engines. (Looking for an LS motor? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our LS Engine Spotter’s Guides to learn how to more easily find one.)

Junkyard shopping is often a great way to find used parts on the cheap or grab components that are no longer available, but it’s a totally different experience from buying something at a swap meet or parts counter.

We asked OnAllCylinders’ own scrapyard sages, Rick Eash and Jason Liss, if they had any tips to bestow.

Here’s what they came up with.

13 Tips for Sourcing Junkyard Car and Truck Parts 

Chevy Camaro in a Junkyard

Need parts for a 30th-anniversary Chevy Camaro? You never know what you’ll find at a junkyard. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

1. Plan your Pull

Figure out what part you need, plus any related components. Make sure a junkyard part will work for what you need. As with buying anything used, a junkyard part (like an electrical component or a structural piece) carries an inherent risk of pre-existing problems.

2. Take Pictures

Got a digital camera or a smartphone? Use it to document the job, both before in your own vehicle and again at the yard. An accurate picture of the part and its surroundings will ensure you’re making the right pull.

3. Outfit Your Toolbox

Tools will rarely be available at the yard, so you must use your own. Bring as few tools as possible, but make sure you have what you need. Remove the bad part from your vehicle first and make a note of what tools you used. Did removing the part require special sockets, like Torx or Allen heads? Pay attention to how the part fits, and if there are any impediments to removal—you may need a cutting tool to get access to the component on a scrapped vehicle.

4. Outfit Yourself

On hot days, bring a hat and plenty of water, for cold days bring gloves and an ice scraper. Sturdy boots are a must, and if you’ll be lying on the ground, then a padded mat is your best friend.  Coveralls can keep muck and grease off your clothes. Maybe pack sunscreen, bug spray, or wasp killer? (Ask us how we know!)

5. Wear Mechanics Gloves

Unless you’re pulling something simple like a shift knob, gloves are a no-brainer.

6. Bring Eye Protection

Junkyard cars are often filled with rust, goo, and other unidentifiable gunk. Protect your peepers from fluids and debris with a set of safety glasses—especially if you’ll be lying on your back.

unked Car in a Scrapyard

Most junkyard cars will be in rough shape, so the key to successful scavenging is being prepared. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Paul Sakalas)

7. Scout First

If you’ve got to bring a lot of gear to your pull, leave it in your vehicle and check out the scrapped car first. That’ll save you from lugging around unnecessary tools and supplies.

8. Bring Cleaning Supplies

Remember, this is a junkyard. There’s a good chance you’ll be cleaning muck off of bolt heads and wiping oil away from your part. Brushes and shop towels are pretty handy.

9. Wire Cutters Cut More Than Wire

A lot of vehicles have special plastic fasteners that are a headache to remove. A set of diagonal cutting pliers (AKA wire cutters, side cutters, or dikes) can cure that.

10. Bring Impacts and Breakers

This tip is job-specific, but if you’re pulling a large chassis or engine component, a battery-powered impact wrench or breaker bar is worth its weight in gold.

11. Grab What’s Important

A big advantage of a junkyard is that you can pull off all the extra brackets, hardware, fasteners, and wiring you’ll need to install the part. Take a “big-picture” look at the part—and make sure you pull as much as you need.

12. Understand Cores/Returns

If you’re lucky, your junkyard will allow returns—but don’t bet on it. Make sure you’re pulling the right part the first time. Also, many yards now have core charges on certain parts. Call ahead or check online first—bringing your old core with you the first time will save a trip.

13. Bring Cash

Small bills especially. A lot of yards don’t take credit cards, and making an attendant break a $100 bill for a $4 part is a dimwit move.

A final bonus tip? A shower afterward.

If you’ve got any hints of your own, let us know in the comments!

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  1. Also have Wasp/hornet & mosquito spray. No matter how hot it is wear protective clothing like long sleeved shirt, long pants,boots

  2. Daniel Wilson says:

    This particular problem was mentioned in the story and in a comment but it’s especially bad in southern states during hot weather. MOSQUITOES ! Salvage yards are natural breeding areas due to so many sources of standing water that collects from rain. So bring along some insect repellent because standing outside the salvage yard you won’t see a single mosquito but after getting inside their habitat, the battle begins.

    Something else to consider is snakes. Rattlesnakes in particular here in Georgia during the summer. Especially in poorly maintained junkyards that are overgrown with bushes and weeds. Wearing heavy boots that extend well above the ankle can help prevent a deep puncture from a bite. They are uncomfortable in the heat but considering the discomfort caused by a venomous predator, it’s not so bad. Happy hunting !!!

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