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Scrapyards: what parts to buy and what you should avoid

Scrapyards: what parts to buy and what you should avoid

Going to a scrapyard is a real eye-opener. Actually, they aren’t supposed to be called scrapyard anymore, but rather, ‘salvage yards’ or ‘Automotive Recyclers’. It adds to their very low allure but finding so many parts for your car can be anything but an eye-opener. Practically every part of your car is available, courtesy of similar cars that no longer running. 

There is a certain sadness associated with scrapyard. Every vehicle there at one time was a brand-new car, being picked up by a happy customer. Now look at them! You can see how some cars have sunk- you can tell how badly their owners treated them. 

Considering the price of new parts, especially when you consider the cost of a brand new part, it makes good sense to get a used part. On the other hand, it is probably better to buy a new part, especially if it is a part that’s mechanically active. Now, if you were in the process of restoring a classic car, a scrapyard may be the place for you. 

Some of the larger scrapyards won’t let you wonder through their rows and rows of defunct cars and trucks. These are more run like a business with their inventory catalogued- its better if you call ahead asking for a specific part. That’s not much fun, though. Other scrapyard will tell you they think they’ve got the part in “the back, somewhere” and it’s better if you come and look for yourself. 

Still, these are used parts, and there is risk involved. You might spend a lot of time installing a part, only to find out it doesn’t work. Most places guarantee the part, so you can exchange it, but you’ve still invested a lot of time. On the other hand, you shouldn’t forget the “fun” aspect! There’s also the risk of injury if the part doesn’t work so it definitely doesn’t pay to buy certain scrapyard parts.  

Let’s take a look at some of the parts and the risk you may be taking:

Engines and Transmissions

These are obviously high-risk components because you don’t know how long they’re going to last. And they require a lot of time and effort to install. 

Still, the potential savings can be tremendous. If you’ve priced an engine from a dealer, you can see the price differential.

The good recycler will tell you what car the engine or transmission came out of, how many miles are on it and so forth- and at the very least, you should be able to check the fluid condition, and by pulling out few spark plugs out, be able to determine, to some degree, if the engine was burning oil. 

Or you can point to an engine that hasn’t been taken yet from a donor car, too.

If you need an engine part, such as a manifold or a starter, you can’t go wrong with a salvaged part. 

Alternators and Starters

It certainly is much easier to remove these parts from a scrapyard car. These are easy to install, and you don’t run into much risk if you get a defective one, because they are easy to exchange.

Brake parts

There are brake parts you should avoid, such as used brake pads or shoes, because new ones are pretty inexpensive. Master cylinders, calipers and wheel cylinders deteriorate from just sitting around so you’re better off getting rebuilt parts. Besides, many places won’t sell you these anyway. On the other hand, brake drums, rotors and power boosters can be a good deal- especially on harder to get rarer cars.


Axles for rear wheel drive cars are practically indestructible so you can save a lot here. Front drive axles, if the axle boots aren’t ripped, should be fine, too- although you can’t tell until you’ve installed them. On the other hand, axles, particularly front-wheel drive ones, are fairy cheap at the auto parts store and it is better to stay with rebuilt units.


If you got a Mercedes with a bad computer, it would be definitely worthwhile to get a used one. OEM electrical parts can really cost; on the other hand, some scrapyards won’t exchange electrical components.

Front end parts

Wearable parts, such as tie-rods, ball-joints and the like aren’t generally sold; the issue of safety enters here.  You can save a lot here on things such as steering boxes, control arms, anti-sway bars, etc. but you have to make sure they’re in good condition.  

Sheet metal and Glass

Major savings can be had here. It certainly doesn’t take a college degree to be able to tell if a body part is good or not.

Interior parts

Major savings here over the cost of new parts, and that includes things as seats, dash pads, door panels, etc.  You can also save on stereos as well- assuming they are in working-order.

Tail light lenses, Headlight assemblies and Reflectors

If you’ve been to the dealer looking for a rear taillight, you can see how overpriced these new parts are. On the other hand, a scrapyard can sell you the identical part for a lot less.

Wheels and Tyres

As far as wheels go, used aluminum wheels are much cheaper, even if you are looking for a full-size spare for your car. Steel wheels are cheap too. You can save on used tires, but look at them very carefully.

Remember, too, that most scrapyards will guarantee what they sell. If the part you bought is bad, they’ll gladly replace it.