I Bought a Car from a Junkyard
By: Leon Rhodes
I recently bought a used car that needed cosmetic TLC and a few replacement parts. It needed typical stuff you often find in a junkyard like a bumper and passenger door handle. The alternator was overcharging too so I made my list and drove down to the local auto junkyard.
I found a good parts donor car and was just about to start wrenching what I needed from it when, after seeing my list, the owner made a suggestion that I should 'just buy the whole car'.
He may have been kidding but it made complete sense, so I bought the junkyard car, saved some money, and you can save some bucks by buying a car from a junkyard too. Here's how:
How to buy a junkyard car
- Step 1 - Find a junkyard near you that lets people into the yard to buy parts, in my area they call it 'pick and carry'. You'll find junkyard locations in local business directories, classifieds, online and by word of mouth.
- Step 2 - Call the junkyard to confirm that you can find and remove parts yourself. Some junkyards don't allow people to enter the yard, they typically stack vehicles which makes it unsafe for regular shoppers.
- Step 3 - Go down to the yard and see if they have a vehicle you want. If you find one start mentally adding up what you think the remaining parts are worth to you. Most scrapyards will ask anywhere from $20 to $50 per used part.
- Step 4 - Find the junkyard's owner or yard master and tell him/her/them that instead of removing all the parts in the yard you would prefer to simply buy the entire car. Be friendly and sincere, the worst they can say is no.
- Step 5 - If they offer a price or ask how much you're offering its time to start negotiating. There's lots you can do to bargain yourself a better price too. It helps If you can haul it away yourself or offer to remove a part the yard may want to sell separately etc.
- Step 6 - Come prepared to follow through. Example: If you promised cash during negotiations make sure you brought some. If you promised to haul it away yourself have a plan for that too. In my experience anything you can do to make it easier for the yard to say yes helps.
When buying a car from a junkyard makes sense
In my case it made sense to buy the entire junker because I needed enough parts that the price we negotiated made it worthwhile. There are, however, other situations and reasons when it makes sense to buy a car from a scrapyard.
Rebuild project: If you're handy around cars you might save some money by finding a car that needs specific repairs. Sometimes a car gets sent to the scrapyard because the engine stopped running or the body gave out, they aren't all wrecked vehicles. If you're able to repair engines or perform body work you might find a bargain. Tip: Be honest when assessing a salvage vehicle's condition, it may need more work than you first think.
Keep some parts, sell some parts: In some situations, like mine, you might only need some parts and you may be able to find other buyers for the rest. I sold the engine, minus the alternator and starter, for almost half the price I paid for the entire vehicle.
I informed the buyer that I didn't know what condition the engine was in, and they were fine with that because they wanted to fully rebuilt it. It also helped that I removed it myself, the buyer only needed to pick it up, not remove it from the vehicle.
About junkyard titles: Unless the junkyard is registered to sell used cars you aren't likely going to be able to get anything but a salvage title for vehicles bought at the junkyard, or no title at all. Check title regulations with your local department of motor vehicles before buying a clunker if your plans involve putting a vehicle back on the road.
In summary: There a lot of pitfalls with no guarantees when purchasing a whole or partially parted out vehicle from a salvage yard but there are also situations where you can save a good deal of money by doing so. It's not always easy to remove parts yourself, and sometimes requires tools or a friend's help, but there is definitely a potential upside to buying a vehicle from the junkyard. It all depends on what you plan to do with it.
Can you buy a complete car from a junkyard?
Most junkyards allow people to buy an entire car and, in fact, many junkyards will repair salvaged vehicles to sell it themselves if the resale value is high enough. The value of a junkyard car depends on the condition and type of title(salvage vs clean) it has.
How much do junkyards pay for cars?
Prices fluctuate depending on the current value of metals, vehicle weight, model year, condition and completeness. On average a junkyard is typically going to pay between $250 and $500 for a car in non-running condition but may pay a premium for a more desirable car with a clean title.
Which are the most valuable car parts to scrap?
Aftermarket electronics, catalytic converters, car batteries, engines, transmissions, airbag systems and doors are typically the most valuable to sell or 'part out'. Rims and tires are also top sellers if they are in good condition with life left in them.
Consider scrap metal value: The value of scrap metal fluctuates and, at the time of writing this article, metals are currently selling at a premium. That means when you finish removing the parts you need you're left with a considerable amount of metal that has value too.
I called a local cleanup company that hauls away unwanted cars for free but you may be able to sell what's left to a scrapper. Check for ads in your local classifieds by 'scrapper' companies offering 'top dollar' for running or non-running vehicles. They might take it back to the yard for you and pay you a small sum in the process.