If you are new to the world of fixing and maintaining cars, or were not born with a family of DIYers, then you may be unfamiliar with pick and pull type salvage yards.  Should you want to start wrenching on your own vehicles, then wrecking yards are definitely a great resource that you want to start utilizing whenever possible.

However, they can be an intimidating place for a newcomer, especially if you have no idea what to expect.  We're going to clear the air on most newbie questions, as well as go through some tips that will make your first trip to the junkyard awesome.  And depending on how strange a person you are, you might turn out to be like me and think of it as a neat place to explore.

Why Would I Want to Go to a Junkyard?

You may be wondering what the point of all this is.  After all, who wants to go get some dirty old used part when you could go to the dealership or local auto parts store instead?

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... salvage yards are cheap.  REALLY cheap.  Like "you're practically giving this away cheap."  New parts, particularly genuine ones from the dealer, are very expensive.  Auto parts store are generally in the middle in terms of price, but are a lesser quality than the dealer, OEM level part.

A salvage yard allows you to get high-quality OEM parts for next to nothing.  It's awesome.  And while the parts are obviously going to be used, depending on what it is you are buying, you can usually tell the condition of what you are pulling off.  And if the part you grab isn't to the quality you were expecting, you can just go back and grab another; it's not like they're charging you high prices!

What's a Pick and Pull Yard Like?

In my eyes, there are really two kinds of wrecking yards:

  1. Pick and pulls
  2. Lousy yards with expensive prices that should be avoided.
Pick and Pull

I'll admit there's some bias.  But in all reality, pick and pulls are superior in almost every way.  You get to see the condition of the part before it's time to buy, you get to inspect the salvage car to see if there's anything else on it you might like to grab, and the prices are much lower.  There is a convenience factor for yards that will go and remove the part for you, but for me, it's not worth the inflated cost.  We're only going to be discussing pick and pull yards here.

Most PnP type junkyards will have cars lined up in rows, usually with some organizational system.  A common organizational method is to keep domestic brands (Ford, GM, Mopar) in one section, and foreign brands (Honda, Volkswagen, Toyota, etc.) in another.  Depending on the place, they will sometimes sort them down even further, like Asian and European cars.

Most of the time, the salvage cars will be lifted into the air and set on top of old steel wheels.  These wheels are decent for keeping the car off the ground, but don't go trusting them to the point where you are lying under the cars.  Accidents can happen.  Be smart and don't become a statistic.

What Should I Bring?

Since it's a "you-pull-it" type of junkyard, you should bring whatever tools you need to remove whatever part you need.  If you aren't entirely certain on what you need, it's best to throw all of your basic mechanic's tools (set of sockets, wrenches, vice grips, etc.) into a toolbox.


A tool bag is also another option.  It's certainly easier and lighter to carry around than a toolbox.  However, many wrecking yards have policies that do not allow bags because of theft.  Check beforehand, and if you can't find any information, just bring a toolbox anyway to be safe.  You can always ask in person and bring a bag the next time.

Whatever it is you decide to bring, add the following 3 items to that packing list:

  1. Work gloves.  There is broken glass and metal bits everywhere.  It's very easy to get cut.
  2. A knife.  While not ideal, sometimes parts are tricky to remove and things in your way need to be cut.  Be careful about doing this, as it could be against the rules depending on which yard you are at.
  3. PB Blaster.  Remember, these are old cars to begin with, and they've been sitting in the yard for who knows how long.  Bolts are often rusty or stuck, this helps loosen them up.  It's way more effective than WD-40 and costs the same.

Also, wear old jeans and sneakers (boots would actually be ideal.)  Shorts and any type of open-toe shoe are a big no-no.  It's just stupid to even consider being as you are going to a place with shards of metal and glass, and some places won't even let you in if you are dressed like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Oh, and be sure to have ID and cash on you.  You must be 18 years old to enter, in most cases anyway.  And while some yards take credit cards, most operate on a cash-only basis.

Hopefully this inspires the DIY type of people to go explore their local salvage yards.  I'm a bit of a freak, but I always enjoy these types of trips.  You get to see all sorts of older vehicles.  In my many trips, I have seen everything from junky Yugos and Daewoos, all the way up to high-end Audi S4s and Porsche 911s.  Seriously, you never know what is going to show up there.

If you are on a tight budget and are in need of car repairs, the salvage yards are often a great place to go for parts.  It's a very low-stress situation due to the nature of how inexpensive everything is, and the experience gained from the removal of the old part from the junk car will often give you the confidence to tackle the repair on your own personal vehicle.