16 Auto Salvage Tips and Tricks for Pulling Used Parts

Trips to your local auto salvage can be time consuming, frustrating, and costly if you don’t have a plan. Our guide below, will walk you through some of our best tips to get the most out of your junkyard pick and pull visit. If you implement even just a few of these tips and tricks, you will save time, money, and the heart ache of taking home parts that don’t work. Today you will learn how to be a pro auto scrapper…

16 Tips for Pulling Parts at an Auto Salvage

Follow these tips below and please consider sharing our graphic. Below we will discuss each one of these tips in more detail.

Auto Salvage Tips and Tricks

Now that we have the basics covered, lets dive into the details of pro junk yarding!

1. Pull Parts at Home First

Before you go to the auto salvage yard to get parts, have a plan first.

Figure out what parts you need to replace and then pull them out of your vehicle at home. This will allow you to set aside the tools you used. Having the tools set aside, means you know exactly what to bring. Secondly you gain the experience of how to get the part out. This will save you time at the junkyard. Lastly if you break something else while you are removing the part, you can add it to your list of needs.

2. Research Before You Go to the Auto Salvage Yard

Different car models from the same manufacturer share parts across models and years. For example the fuel pump for my 2007 Toyota Corolla can be found on any Corolla from 2005 2006 2007 2008 or a Toyota Matrix L4 1.8L. Knowing this means that if the Junkyard doesn’t have a 2007 Corolla I can try several other years of the model or even the Matrix L4. This is even better if I have an exclusive Toyota salvage to go to as I can find more of what I need.

A call ahead to the auto salvo can also be beneficial. You can call and ask about if they have any specific makes, models, and years or a vehicle in the inventory. Knowing this in advance may end up saving you a trip.

3. Examine Parts for Rust and Corrosion

Before you spend the time struggling to get a part out, thoroughly inspect it. Try and look at it from multiple angles and shine a flashlight on it, if its hard to see. Check for rust and corrosion. You can take a part with some rust on it, but be smart, rust work sucks.

There is no sense spending the time to remove a part that is to damaged to use. Restoring aluminum, steel, and magnesium parts can be time consuming and more costly.

4. Find Used Parts You Need First, Then Get Your Tools

If you are like me, you love to bring a lot of tools to the junkyard. Tools are a pain in the neck to lug around, especially when it’s hot. Its easier, to walk the yard and find the spare parts you want, then go back to the car and grab just the tools you need. Why lug every tool you own around when you won’t use 90% of them.

5. Take the Nuts and Bolts With You

After you pull a part from a vehicle, bag and tag the nights and bolts. Alternatively you can screw them back into the part. Don’t assume you have them at home. Getting all the way to find out you don’t have the right size nuts and bolts, means delays in your repair. Do yourself a favor and take them with you.

6. A Tailpipe Makes a Great Makeshift Breaker Bar

Sometimes you come across a stubborn nut or bolt. If you don;t have or carry a breaker bar, look for a tail pipe. Tail pipes or long and strong and will provide you some extra leverage on your wrench or ratchet.

7. Use Brake Fluid if You Forget Penetrating Oil

I always carry penetrating fluid for a tough nut or bolt, but sometimes you run out at the worst possible time. If you don’t have penetrating fluid, find a stick and dip it in the brake fluid canister.

Putting a little brake fluid on the nut or bolt will provide enough lubrication to get it off. Most yards drain the brake fluid when they accept it, but you can often find a few drips left in there.

8. Lay Down Car Mats if You Need to Lay on the Ground

Going to the junkyard usually entails getting dirty, but going on a day it rains or is muddy sucks. If you need to get on the ground to lay down or kneel take car mats out of vehicles. Put them down on the ground so that you can try and stay dry. I like to check vans and trucks as they often have larger mats,

9. When You Use a Tool, Put it Right Back in Your Toolbox

Tool discipline is important. Make a rule, that whenever you use a tool, it foes right back in the tool box. Ideally I try and use one tool at a time, but as you know that’s not really practical. If you don’t put your tools back you will never see them again. Just ask me about my favorite sawzall I left.

10. Be On the Lookout for Specialty and in Demand Parts

Keep a keen eye out for after market parts, specialty bumpers, body kits, and highly sought after parts. You can find all types of gems at the junkyard and if you know what sells on ebay you can make a ton of money. At a Dodge junkyard, I once pulled a Dodge Cummin 5.9L Turbo Charger and sold it for $500 on eBay. Had no use for it myself, but knew I should grab it. I can often find nice gems for Jeeps, Corvettes, Mustangs, anything JDM, and Volkswagens all of which have enthusiasts looking for parts.

11. Bring a Small Battery for Testing Used Electrical Parts

Most auto salvos aren’t going to let you walk around with a full size battery. If you wire up some alligator clips to your portable drill battery you can make a little battery unit. You just need a little electrical tape to get your wires attached to the battery leads. In the picture on the right it’s a Ryobi battery for a power drill.

You can use this to test fans, power windows, door looks, fuel injectors. etc. Testing electronic parts before you strip them will save time and money.

12. If You Need Wire, Get it From Large Trucks and Vans

If you are in need of wire, go for a wiring harness in a large truck or a van. Typically they will have the most wire. Not only can you get almost 300 feet in total of wire, but you can get a myriad of colors. This can save you about $75 at the hardware store and they usually only carry 3 colors. Having multiple colors makes your wiring projects easier.

13. Try and Check the Odometer, Before you Pull an Engine

If you need to pull the motor out of a junked car, try and fire up the odometer. This will help you understand how many miles may be on the motor before you pull it. If you have brought a little battery for testing (see tip 11), you can rip out the dash and power the odometer.

14. Learn More About The Junked Vehicle By Checking the VIN

If you are pulling parts off a vehicle and want to understand more about the original vehicle, look up the VIN. The two sites I like which have tons of information are: Decode This and VinDecoderz. Also remember the newer the model of vehicle, the likely hood of the more parts being on it.

15. If the Part is Expensive, Ask About a Warranty

Not all auto salvos offer a parts warranty, but you should ask. If you feel the part you are buying is a bit expensive, get a warranty. Most auto salvages don’t give cash back, but do offer an exchange or credit if you bring it back within 30 days. Warranties will range from $12-$16 depending on the yard.

16 Wear Protective Equipment at the Auto Salvage

Carrying water and bringing gloves, goggles, and sunscreen can make a huge difference in your day. Its important that these are staples of your trip and should be considered as important as your favorite ratchet. Also ensure you keep a first aid kit with band aides and neosporin in your car. Never know when you might cut yourself on some old rusty steel

Auto Salvage Yard Tips and Tricks Conclusion

Any of these tips and tricks can be easily implemented as part of your regular auto parts scavenging at any type of salvage yard. Some of these are probably common sense and some you may already be doing as part of your junkyard routine. These are just a few things I have picked up over the years. Having a process makes scrapping easier and saves both time and money.

This is what I have learned from pulling used parts at the the auto salvage yards near me.


James is an avid junkyarder and mechanic. He has visited Junkyards in every US state and has restored over 30 makes and models of vehicles. He has several automotive and recycling related blogs that generate over 150K views a month.