How to Junkyard Like a Pro

Junkyards are amazing treasure troves, full of reusable material, pieces of equipment, and car parts and pieces. For the automobile industry, they are an integral feature, especially if you are someone who relies on them for vehicle repairs. With 80% of a vehicle being recyclable, junkyards provide the repurposing of metal and steel as well as the reuse and recycle oil, gas, and even things like antifreeze.

When it comes to working an auto junkyard like a pro, then you need to know how to be efficient. The best ways to find what you need isn’t to just walk around. You can wander aimlessly and never find what you need.

What I suggest is to approach it with a strategy, especially if you are limited on time. Don’t get me wrong I love walking around some of the largest junkyards in the country

but when you are their for repairs, you don’t have time to waste. If you need something specific, having a consistent  approach of getting in and out as quickly as possible is your best process.

Here are some of the tips to help you to work an auto junkyard and find what you need, just like a pro.

Bring a Tool Bag

When it comes to a junkyard, things aren’t going to be taken apart neatly for you to pick-up and take home. You need to make sure that you bring a bag of your tools with you. Some basic tools you need are an:

  • impact driver with various bits
  • sockets set and ratchet
  • Reversible ratchet wrenches
  • screw drivers
  • wrench
  • dikes
  • needle nose pliers
  • compact sawsall
  • multi-tool

You don’t need to take everything in the yard with you just leave some tools in your vehicle. Also if you are pulling parts from an American car, then why bring your metric sets. You should also bring water, gloves, and eye protection. I also like to carry a little 3-1 oil and WD40.

If you think that what you are looking for is going to be a big job, then it is a good time to get friends or family to come with you and help.

Pro Tip: Remove the parts from your vehicle at home first and set aside the tools you used. Then take only the tools you need to the junkyard with you.

Set Up Email Alerts

A lot of auto junkyards these days have a system in place where you can sign up to get email alerts when a certain make or model comes in. Then it will be a first-come-first-served frenzy to get to the auto in time, to be able to strip it for the desired parts. This is a really good thing to get alerted about if your local junkyard has this option.

There are two things I like to do with this information:

  1. Hustle down to the junkyard and be the first to start picking
  2. Call the junkyard and ask questions about the condition and if the parts I want are damaged.

Pro Tip: Email alerts are for pro pickers…your average local parts picker is always a step behind people with email alerts.

Bonus Tip: If you are someone who also buys used tires, lots of used tire shops also do email alerts.

Gather More Than You Need

The better you know the marketable parts on a vehicle, the better you can understand what has value. You could either sell these parts or just take them for spares if they are available. If you don’t take those parts now it is highly unlikely that something will still be there waiting for you the next time that you visit.

Taking a little more than you need is a good practice, if you have a few extra bucks. It could help you to build up a store of things that you might not need immediately, or make a few dollars selling the parts second hand yourself. Do remember though there are also parts you should never take.

Pro Tip: Parts like fenders, bumpers, side mirrors, and lights are constantly damaged in accidents. They are some of the easiest parts to carry in the yard and also the fastest pieces to sell online.

All You Can Carry Junkyard

Do Your Research

Waiting for a certain make or model to be available can be a bit hit and miss. Even if you sign up for email alerts for a particular part or vehicle, you don’t know how long you could be waiting. Junkyards tend to get new vehicle inventory on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

If time is of the essence, and you need something in particular, sooner rather than later, then doing your research is important. You want to know what parts from other vehicles are compatible with what you need. You may also want to make sure your local junkyard is open during hours you can get there. Some yards are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

By looking further than the year, make, and model of the auto or part, find a comp car. For example if you had a  2003 Corolla with damage to the hood, front fenders, front bumper, and headlight. you don’t need to find an 003 Corolla. For the bumper through you need an 2003 or 2004 Corolla. All the other parts you can pull from any Corolla between 2003 and 2008.

Pro Tip: Before you go to the salvage yard do a google search for your vehicle and then interchangeable replacement parts. You can also check which has inter-changeable part database.

Junkyarding Like a Pro – Wrap Up

Wandering an auto junkyard can be a fun way to spend time, especially if you are just looking for bits and pieces. Also fun if you are seeking a project car and don’t exactly know what you want. For anything more particular, you do need to do your research and make sure that you plan it all out. Plan out what you will need, when you will go, and also for the future. You may not need a particular part right away, but if there is one there, then it is best to take it for later. 

You can find junkyards near you you can discover some auto junkyards in and around where you live that you might not have known existed before. But with these tips, you will be working an auto junkyard, like a pro. Now go have fun picking and save some money on parts!

For more pro tips on pulling parts, click here.


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.