Don’t be afraid of junkyards. They’re loads of fun, filled with cheap parts, and offer some of the greatest wrenchin’ you can find in this great nation of ours. Come check out an awesome junkyard with us and we’ll show you the ropes.
I really like being around cars. So naturally, I’m a big fan of car shows. Around Detroit, where I live, there are tons of great shows every weekend. The cars are all shiny, clean, and generally not infested with diseases or varmints. It’s great.
But you know what I like more than car shows? Junkyards. Because, in a way, junkyards are the ultimate car shows. You not only get to look at cars, but you can sit in them, and, most importantly, wrench on them. Not to mention, you can learn a lot about the cars’ previous owners by the strange corpses you find buried in the trunk.
First, I’ll outline the steps you need to take to make junkyarding a good experience.
If you’re looking for something in particular, go ahead and check if your local salvage yard has a website with inventory tracking. If you’re looking for bumper end cap for an old Jeep J10, you really want to make sure the yard has your vehicle before you drive all the way over there. If your car is common, though, you can probably skip this step.
Don’t wear nice clothes to the junkyard. In fact, don’t wear even average clothes to the junkyard. If you’re not ready to throw it away, keep it home. I myself have a giant stash of “wrenchin’ clothes” in a pile at my house. Some are dress shirts. Some are just normal shorts and T-shirts. They all started out pretty nice, until some little quibble on my Jeep tempted me, and I slid underneath to “quickly” fix it. Next thing you know, I’m elbows deep in grease and my work clothes are soiled. Ah well, more wrenchin’ clothes for the junkyard.
You don’t want to bring too many tools to the junkyard, as you’ll be carrying them around all day. If you live in the rust belt, bring a hammer, because torches aren’t allowed (they don’t want you setting the whole yard on fire), and the part you’re after will inevitably be rusted firmly to the car. Bring a backpack if you need, but bring as few tools as you can to carry, and leave the rest in your car. Worst case, if you decide you need that valve spring compressor, you can just tell the clerk and run to your car and grab it.
Once you get to the junkyard, there’s usually a window with an attendee who will ask you to sign a form. I’ve never read the form, but it’s probably a release form that pretty much frees the yard from responsibility if you fall through a rusty floorboard and gash yourself open. It also tells them who’s in the yard, so that they know who’s going to be at the receiving end of the junkyard dog at the end of the night. Entrance fees are usually between one and two dollars.
Tell the clerk in the office what car you’re looking for and ask if he or she can give you a map. Usually the junkyard maps are pretty crude, not unlike the one I drew up below. But the basic gist is that yards are usually broken up first by nationality and then by make. Without a map, you can spend all day at the yard looking for your part.
Scour the yard for the part you need. I needed a transmission oil cooler for my off-road project Jeep Cherokee XJ. Removing the trans cooler wasn’t too bad, except for fact that the hoses were seized on to the fittings. Nothing a bit of elbow grease couldn’t handle.
Now it’s time to check the damage. Bring your parts to the counter. There’s usually a metal shelf that you can drop your parts on during checkout. The clerk will mark the parts with a paint marker, and sometimes you’ll have to tell the clerk what you have. Many yards have standard pricing on stuff, but in some cases, you can haggle prices. At the yard I go to, I rarely have to. My pristine OEM transmission oil cooler cost me about $13.
A note on etiquette: In general, you should be careful around the junkyard. Not only for your safety, but also because you don’t want to damage parts if you can avoid it. Remember, the yard owners make money off their parts, so if you decide to scratch up a nice fender to get the trim off, you’re losing the yard money. Also, during checkout, disclose everything you’re taking with you. Even if it’s nuts and bolts or some gadget you found stuffed in the seat of the car. If it wasn’t your property to begin with, you need to show it during checkout.
Now that you know how easy it is to get parts from the yard, here’s another reason why you should frequent junkyards: the cars are awesome:
Isuzu Impulse Turbo:
Jaguar XJS V12:
Giant Chevrolet Silverado:
Jeep Grand Wagoneer:
Toyota Landcruiser FJ60:
Plymouth Fury Wagon:
Weight Savings At Its Finest:
Ford Excursion Limousine:
If you need an engine, they can pull it for you:
A scorched S Class:
5 Series Wagon:
Buick Skylark 4 Door
Geeking Out is former Fiat Chrysler engineer and current Jalop scribe David Tracy’s weekly missive on all things intensely technical about cars. He can be reached at email@example.com.