Junkyards are awesome. Besides being full of interesting and potentially useful machines, junkyards are an essential part of the automotive ecosystem. One of the largest junkyard chains, LKQ Pick Your Part, has salvage yards in 17 states plus Quebec. In 2014, the company recycled about 2.5 million gallons of gas, along with a half-million gallon of oil and antifreeze, and about 750,000 tons of steel. On top of that, there are all the parts—alternators, air conditioning compressors, whole engines, you name it—that get reused rather than manufactured anew. Part pickin’ is good for the environment!
Best of all, it’s fun.
There are two ways you can approach a salvage yard. First, there’s the “surprise and delight” strategy, where you have an idea of what you want—seats, for example—but no set plan on where to find them. So, you wander around and look for the least-stained set of chairs that might fit your project vehicle. Bonus points if your parts come out of something campy or strange—like if you decide your Jeep Cherokee should be rocking seats out of a Mercury Villager Nautica. Wandering around a junkyard for parts without a well-defined agenda is one of the finer pleasures in life. Oh, look! That old Infiniti still has its analog dashboard clock. That would look nice in your Kia, or even on your bedside table.
The other tactic is to be totally on a mission, getting in and out to snag a particular item as quickly as possible (and hopefully before someone else gets there first). And here’s where you might need some advice. So, I implore you: Learn from our mistakes.
Be ready to act fast.
Many junkyards let you set up email alerts so that when a certain vehicle arrives in one of their yards, you can go there immediately to strip your parts. That’s important because the longer a car sits in the yard, the greater the chances that whatever you need will already be gone.
➡ You love badass cars. So do we. Let's nerd out over them together.
When Ezra got the alert that his local yard received a mid-nineties four-wheel-drive Ford F-150, he went there later that day and found a guy already tearing into the truck. Ezra graciously asked the man if he needed the left front spindle assembly and he said no, so they both commenced hammering and wrenching on the F-150 carcass to their own ends. As such, there might’ve been very little left the following week.
Junkyards catalog their available vehicles, but not how intact they are. You really don’t know if that truck in the photos still looks like that, or whether it’ll be reduced to a steering wheel sitting on the ground when you get there. So, it’s best to go early.
Bring the right tools.
If you can consult a repair manual or credible YouTube video to divine the necessary tools for your intended job, you’ll save yourself a lot of aggravation. Nothing is more frustrating than getting deep in the junkyard only to realize that you need a tool that you don’t have, forcing you to trudge all the way out again to pick it up at a store or worse, back at home. This is both demoralizing as well as inconvenient.
If you find yourself in the junkyard often, you may even want to purchase a sacrificial set of inexpensive tools that you’re less concerned about losing. People tend to take anything useful that’s left in the yard, including that wrench you didn’t realize you dropped. Perhaps you could find tools on sale or at a cheap-tool store like Harbor Freight, but yard sales are surprisingly one of the best places to look. As with a junkyard, you’ll want to head to a promising yard sale early since inexpensive used tools tend to be one of the first things to sell.
You should also find out whether your junkyard prohibits certain kinds of tools. If you’re heading to LKQ, for instance, your game plan better not depend on any cutting torches, gas-powered tools, or anything else on their list of banned items. And yes, they search you on the way in.
Get a tool bag.
You need to cart your own tools in with you. As such, you should streamline your operation with a tool bag that has just what you need and some basics to pick up junkyard parts you didn’t know you needed (or wanted). Lugging in a huge three-drawer metal toolbox not only takes up precious wheelbarrow space that you’d rather fill with parts—it can make you look like a tool bag.
If you expect a major operation that requires a lot of tools, that’s the perfect time to rope in a few friends to help out. Lower-volume and older cars don’t appear as often in junkyards, so if you find that particular holy grail among the rows, that’s the perfect time to stock up on spare parts with more than what would fit in one wheelbarrow. Stef once descended upon one pristine Porsche 944 with four friends, leaving with an entire sedan full of spares for her race car in a matter of just a couple hours.
Study up on your compatible options.
One time, Ezra was having little luck finding a Ford Bronco to scavenge for a spindle. He eventually found the part on an F-150, which shares a lot of drivetrain components with the Bronco and is much more common. It worked.
Looking beyond your exact model can save the day, especially if you’ve got a badge-engineered vehicle. Can’t find parts for your first- or second-generation Honda Passport? Look for an Isuzu Rodeo! It’s the same thing!
Likewise, if you have a rare or older car like Ezra’s Bronco that doesn’t frequently show up in junkyards, always check which components were used in more common cars. Did you know that the Lamborghini Diablo shares its headlamps with a Nissan 300ZX? These are fun facts to know, but they can also spare you days of frustrating for-sale ad browsing online.
This is also your chance to upgrade your mid-level car with junkyard parts from the fancier one that wasn’t actually much fancier. Time for some Infiniti wheels, Mr. Nissan.
Take more than you need.
It’s not unusual to see satisfied junkyard customers hauling out whole V8s in wheelbarrows. You may as well, given how cheap the prices are. One of Ezra’s friends scored an entire 6.0-liter Chevy V8 out of a junked van for $200. Maybe he only needed the heads or something, but considering the labor of swapping out smaller parts with only the tools you can carry in, it’s often easier to go for an entire intact system.
If you’re taking the left front half-shaft out of that whip, maybe grab the right one while you’re under there. You’ll probably need it eventually and this will save you a trip. I mean, you don’t want to have to come back here.
Well, maybe you do.
You Might Also Like