The Benefits of Car Salvage

Whatever name they go by - vehicle salvage yards, auto wreckers or auto recyclers - these businesses are great places for gearheads, car restorers or anyone looking for inexpensive parts to buy. If you fall under any of these categories, you might consider visiting your local yard to scan for any pieces you can use for upcoming projects. 

From major components to tiny parts, auto salvage yards have it all.From major components to tiny parts, auto salvage yards have it all.

What is a Vehicle Salvage Yard?

A vehicle salvage yard is a business that collects severely-damaged cars and trucks that are no longer operable, as well as those deemed totaled or beyond repair by insurance companies. Insurance companies define totaled as any damage done to a vehicle that will cost more than the the car is worth, Claims Journal reports.

Salvage yards take the damaged cars and either crush them or recycle the autos and sell the vehicles' used parts. Yard workers also recycle parts that are too damaged to be reused. Rarely anything goes to waste, which is great for vehicle owners looking to buy parts cheap.

Good for the Environment

According to wiseGeek, these yards provide a special service both to people searching for inexpensive car parts and to the environment since they reuse valuable vehicle parts that would otherwise go to waste. Instead of a wrecked truck ending up in a landfill, another truck could get a new lease on life by using its spare parts. Approximately 76 percent of an automobile's parts can be reused, making salvage yards a boon for the planet and anyone in need of a certain part.

Vehicles are the most recycled product in the world, according to Popular Mechanics, as 95 percent of automobiles are reclaimed. Salvage yards and their ilk reuse about 750 million pounds of scrap car metal and other material every month. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, America's salvage yards recycle 8 million cars and 5 million trucks every year, with California's yards the busiest, seeing 2.5 million scrapped vehicles annually. This includes everything from domestic makes and models to foreign vehicles, including Dodge, BMW, Nissan, Chevrolet, Pontiac and many more.

Besides reusing auto parts, many yards also recycle a vehicle's fluids by draining the gas, coolant and oil from the car and reselling it or using it in an operable automobile. After draining the fluids and removing the salvageable car parts, the yard usually uses a car compactor to crush the vehicle's frame, which then gets torn apart. After being smashed and torn, the bits of the former vehicles are then separated out by type and exported around the world. A yard's high-powered magnets also help remove every valuable scrap of steel from the automobile's frame, which the yard can resell or export to companies to reuse.

Many of the materials from scrapped cars and trucks are actually used in the manufacturing of new cars, Popular Mechanics reports. For instance, rubber from one salvaged car or truck can be used to make new tires, line brake and gas pedals or create rubber floor mats. 


Yards are also regulated by both state and federal laws, as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System requires salvage and junkyards to report purchases, according to the government agency's website.

Salvage yard owners must provide the name of the person they bought the vehicle from, the date of sale and its vehicle identification number to ensure a yard isn't purchasing a stolen automobile. These businesses must also comply with the EPA, meeting agency rules for clear air and water and ensuring oil, mercury and other fluids from the vehicles don't drain into nearby water supplies.

How You Can Use a Salvage Yard

You might not think it, but vehicle junk yards can be a great place for hobbyists and people who prefer to take a do-it-yourself route to fixing their cars or trucks. Prospective buyers can usually find parts at a greater discount at a yard when compared to an auto dealership. These businesses provide inexpensive options for many different kinds of customers. For instance, someone looking to reduce their car repair costs under an insurance claim can find used parts for cheaper and have a mechanic install them, helping the policy holder keep the repair price low.

According to, the prices for parts at a yard are considerably cheaper - almost 60 to 90 percent off the original retail price - making these businesses a must for customers needing to stretch their dollars.

If you're searching for a particular part, make sure to do some research before heading over to your local salvage yard. While finding a part like a side view mirror for your car can save you money, make sure it will fit properly or work with your automobile. The last thing you want is to spend money on car parts that won't work for your particular vehicle. Keep your make and model in mind, as a part made for a Lexus may not work for your GMC. That being said, a day at the junkyard can be a fun and adventurous outing if you want to learn more about your vehicle and you're not worried about getting your hands dirty. Make sure you dress appropriately, as there's a good chance you may leave with a grease stain or two if you're not careful.

If you're not savvy around automotive parts, bring a knowledgeable friend to help you pick through them. They can inform you regarding which ones you need to get. 

Two Types of Salvage Yards

Besides proper dress and a gearhead friend, make sure you take a tool kit to the yard when you visit. There are two types of salvage yards - you-pick yards and full-service ones.

You-Pick Yards
You-pick yards are just what they sound like, as customers can take their own tools to the business, look around and actually pry or remove any parts or materials from a car or truck they need.

Bring a hammer, a pair of pliers, a small pry bar, socket set and some work gloves to protect your hands before you start sifting through and pulling parts. Also, be cautious of other people around you who might be prying off items as well.

Full-Service Yards
Full-service yards actually take the you-pick step out of the equation by removing the spare parts for customers and organizing them for visitors to peruse. According to Popular Mechanics, you're more likely to come across a you-pick yard since they have low-overhead operating costs. 

You might be able to find parts more easily at a full-service yard, since they are laid out and organized. If you're in need of a particular item, just call ahead and ask.

A full-service yard should also have a price board where they tag a price on certain parts. Whether it's a mirror from a Mercedes or a Ford, the price is usually the same, meaning the savings are passed on to you. 

Salvage yards can sometimes be a crapshoot depending on the owner. Some organize and order their yards by make and model of vehicle while others have no order at all. If you're unsure if your local yard is a you-pick or a full-service one, it's best to call ahead.

Other Gems

Not everybody making a trip to a junkyard is on the lookout for auto parts for vehicles, however. Artists, hobbyists and other do-it-yourselfers look for hidden gems in auto yards to complete a project or add to their collection. The amount of useful items you can find at a salvage yard is endless. You can find switches, stereo speakers and a plethora of other trinkets to refurbish and use to decorate your garage or house with.

Salvage yards can also be educational experiences to learn how your car or truck works and what all the different parts involved do. Make a day trip to one and see what you can find while educating yourself about your vehicle. If you're in need of a cheap part or a part for a vintage car or truck, you're best bet is at a salvage yard.