How To: Tips for making the most of a visit to the junkyard

When I bought my 1987 BMW, I knew replacement parts would not be cheap. Considering the age of the car and its European origin, even the smallest parts can command a hefty price. So when I needed to replace my front trim and other components, I looked not to BMW or a retail parts supplier but to the junkyard – the cheapest way to buy OEM.

The junkyard is a simple concept. Cars that are wrecked or past their useful life are sold for scrap and left to sit on a lot where anyone can pull parts at a greatly reduced price. The savings, however, can be offset by a lack of convenience – which is why it is important to follow these tips to save time and get the parts you want the first time.

  • Bring the Right Tools: Junkyards will not supply small tools like wrenches and screw drivers. Make sure you bring the correct-sized wrenches, as no amount of positioning or twisting will make an imperial socket turn a metric head. Some parts might also require specialized tools to remove, so make sure to bring those along as well.
  • Call Ahead: Save yourself a wasted trip by confirming that the junkyard has the car and the part you want. Many yards keep an electronic record of what has been bought from what car. While some parts may not be listed in the yard’s computer, a quick phone call could let you know if someone else already pulled the part you need.
  • Bring a Shop Manual: While small trim pieces and some parts are intuitive to remove, it is a good idea to have the book along as insurance against damaging the part you are trying to reach. A shop manual will also list what tools are required, so you can plan your trip accordingly. 
  • Haggle: At most junkyards, the price is negotiable. Save a few bucks by talking down the part you just pulled. Be prepared to point out damage or wear and tear to justify a lower price.

Junkyard “parts safaris” are a great way to keep your classic on the road and still have some money left over for gas. Happy pulling!

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