11 Unspoken Rules for Junkyard Etiquette

Is there such thing as junkyard etiquette? Whether you are visiting a junkyard for the first time or are seasoned scavenger, there is an unspoken code among part pulling vets. This is a community of mechanics, car enthusiasts, restorers, and people just trying to save money. We need to take care of each other, respect the vehicles, and respect the salvage yard process.

After recently having some tools stolen from me while I was pulling parts from under a dash, I got to thinking about some of the things I’ve seen over the years. Here are my rules for basic junkyard etiquette….

11 Unspoken Rules for Junkyard Etiquette

Regardless of the brand of yard you are at, the location of the salvo, or what kind of yard whether it be car, truck, RV, boat, etc...

1. Be Honest About What You Pull

Stealing from a junkyard might seem like it’s no big deal, but it is. No matter what you have, you need to present it at the desk. Even if it’s hose clamps, lugs nuts, weather seal, various nuts and bolts, etc.

Bring it to the desk and report it. You may be surprised how often they will let you take small stuff. If you are become a regular at the yard and have a rep for being super honest, you will get better deals.

2. Leave Parts You Don’t Need Near or In the Vehicle

If you need to pull out parts to get to what you need DON’T:

  1. Throw the parts you don’t need in another vehicle
  2. Throw the parts far away from the vehicle they came from
  3. Put them in a puddle or in on the wet ground where they can corrode
  4. Attach them back to the car so someone else has to remove it again

If you need to pull out parts to get to what you need DO:

  1. Put the parts under the hood, in the interior, or right next to the vehicle
  2. If you feel like you need to reattach something, put it on loose

3. Be Kind to Others, Lend a Hand, and A Rule About Tools

Over the years I have run across many people who have asked for help. If the job is simple like a stepping on a brake, helping an old man with a breaker bar, etc…do it. Those kind of asks are with in reason, if someone asks you for help removing a transmission, respectfully direct them to the junkyard staff. I think asking for help at that level is disrespectful, if you haven’t come prepared or brought your own helper.

Many people will ask to borrow tools. They are sometimes thought of as communal property. It’s ok to lend tools and you should feel comfortable asking for collateral. You are not a jerk, for asking to hold something of theirs will they borrow your tools. For a screw driver I’m not so concerned, but my sawzall requires you to let me hold something of equal value. Some people look at me funny when I ask for collateral, but it’s only fair so that I can protect my tools that I paid for.

My point here is that if you are going to ask to borrow an expensive tool, be prepared to offer collateral when you ask.

4. Skip Cars That Someone Is Pulling an Engine or Transmission

If you see someone pulling an engine or transmission from a vehicle you need parts from, skip it an come back. Pulling an engine or tranny is hard and when you are doing it you don’t want to work around anyone else.

Go find other parts you need. If you have no other parts to pull and can’t wait, ask the person if they are ok with you pulling your part. Don’t just go and start pulling stuff without having a friendly dialog.

Most people will be happy to take a short break and let you pull your part. Worse case they can tell you how much longer they need. They were there first so you should respect that.

5. Don’t Break Stuff to Get To a Part You Need

We have all accidentally broken parts trying to get to what we need. It happens and that is fine in the course of business. However, if you are intentionally breaking parts to get what you want, that is poor junkyard etiquette. Someone else is going to be looking for the stuff you broke and that is the worst feeling. Some people break stuff, because they just don’t care and others do it because they are lazy.

Here is an example of the right way and the wrong way: You can pull out a cluster in a B12 Sentra two different ways. You can take it out from the back, which means pulling off the dashboard which takes 20 minutes or you can just cut the harness which takes 2 minutes. Someone else probably needs that Sentra harness and will be grateful that you left it.

6. Don’t Break Glass To Get In

Many people take the lazy approach into a vehicle: smash the windshield, smash a window, or smash the rear windshield. I once watch a guy smash a windshield in to get a rear view mirror, which he also broke in the process. Leave glass in tact.

First you never know if someone is going to need it. Second, you don’t want glass all over the ground or in the vehicle. If someone needs to get on their hands and knees next to the vehicle they can cut themselves really bad.

Volvo Junkyards Near Me

Notice how there is tire underneath to level the vehicle. Well done!

7. Leave The Vehicle Level

If you are taking any parts related to the tire or rim, level the vehicle. Always put something under it like a few stacked old tires, a scissor jack from another cars trunk, or a cement block. Don’t just let the vehicle fall over. It’s bad for the other parts in it and makes it harder and unsafe for someone else to work on.

8.Bottle Liquid and Don’t Let It Run Off

This junkyard etiquette tip is actually about respecting the environment and the local eco system. If you know you are about to do a job that requires bleeding a line, then you should bottle the liquid and not let it run off into the ground.

All of the liquids in vehicles contain chemicals and can harm the environment and pollute the local ground water. Bring scrap containers with you or some empty soda bottles to drain fluids into. For example, if your project is to pull the calipers you will need to bleed the brakes, run the fluid into a container. Then properly dispose of it.

9. Don’t Sneak In Tools That Aren’t Allowed

Some yards will let you bring in a small cutting torch, but most won’t. That is because these tools are dangerous and are huge fire hazards. Since the torch will have sparks licking off of it while it cuts it can shoot one into an area by accident ignite engine residues and incinerate the car. Find out if there are tool restrictions for the yard you are visiting. If there are don’t sneak the tools in. Some places will actually do the cutting for you ask and it is required.

10. Don’t Break Stuff Like a Jerk

I have seen many people smash tail lights as they walk, smash windows then walk away, or beat the panels of a car in anger. No matter what you feel about the yard, their pricing, etc…doing that is a jerk move. Someone will need those parts and one day it may be you. Have respect for your fellow scavengers and have respect for the vehicles in the yard.

11. Don’t Bring Your Kids

Kids treat junkyards like a playground. Junkyards are full of rust, danger, and sharp edges. Kids running around can be a danger to themselves, you, and people around you. They can be a complete distraction while you are using dangerous tools to remove parts.

Junkyard Etiquette Conclusion

These are just a bunch of unspoken junkyard rules I’ve thought about over the years. I am sure there are more. Following junkyard protocols, both written and unwritten, will leave more parts for the community, aid in vehicle recycling, provide better safety, and help sustain the environment. Hope you found this enlightening, some unspoken junkyard etiquette and rules from an ol’timer.


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.