Jewels in the Junkyard - Self-serve

Jewels in the Junkyard - Self-serve

Self-service salvage yards rule!

In the first two installments of this series we talked about finding yards that have the parts enthusiasts are looking for, and how to conduct your salvage yard search. Now let's talk about scrounging tips on where you can find some of the best bargains-self-service yards.

Take Your Pick

Although many salvage yards do not allow their customers to set foot in their lots, others welcome visitors and either require or allow you to remove your own parts from the vehicle. Being able to walk through the lot is helpful for those with project cars, as you may come across other parts you didn't even know that you needed (like an original Wonderbar radio or a set of European taillights for your VW).

Newer self-service lots go out of their way to make it easy for you to remove parts.

Another advantage to personally picking through the chrome-plated carcasses is finding the best example of the part you are looking for. The chief criteria for the yard mechanic may be which donor car is easiest to get to, not the one with the best-quality whatzit. You may also find rare parts that you do not need on your project, but that would make good trading or swap-meet material down the road.

Make a List

Before you leave on your journey, write down all the part numbers that you're searching for. If you're not sure what your old part came off (the usual case on hot rods, customs and kit cars) take the old one with you to compare. If you don't have the old part, bring photos, tracings or drawings for reference. Do not count on the yard personnel for help. Some may be friendly, knowledgeable car guys; others just cash-register jockeys. Worse yet, some will tell you whatever it takes to complete a sale.

Each salvage yard is run a little differently, but much is also the same. Let's take an imaginary trip to a typical self-service yard to see how it works.

Hunting Trip

First you will need tools. Bring whatever is needed to pull the part, plus some hand cleaner, work gloves and a rag or two. Be prepared to discover attaching bolts that are rounded off and screws stripped out (a pair of small vise-grips can work wonders).

Prepare for a worst-case scenario and you will seldom be disappointed. Bring your tools in a carrying box, and be aware that you may not be allowed to bring your old parts into the yard (since the lot personnel have no way of telling your old part from their newer one). Leave it in your car to compare before you leave.

At the yard office you may be required to sign a release before going into the yard (more a big-city lawyer-esque thing), and there may be a small charge for yard entry. Once in the yard start looking for cars like yours. Most yards sort cars by make or function (Detroit iron, imports, mini pickups, sports cars) and pile them together. However, don't assume that every car is in the correct location, so snoop around. Plus, if you are looking for something generic like a sound system or some chrome trim for a custom, you are going to have to peer into every hull in the lot.

Safety First

Safety is an important aspect of yard hunting. Some lots stack cars in piles, which can make part retrieval hazardous. Cars on top may topple and ones on the bottom may collapse, so carefully evaluate the situation before you climb inside. And bang on hoods and trunks before opening. Listen for the buzz that would indicate a nest of angry yellow jackets and be prepared to run!

Newer self-service lots go out of their way to make it easy for you to remove parts. The cars are not stacked, and they are often set on old wheels and tires to make it easier to crawl underneath. Some have gravel lots to provide drainage and to give a safer base for jacks to work on. Most have "cherry picker" lifts for pulling engines (they will do this after you have loosened everything up).

The Score!

Once you have your part in hand, go see the checkout person. You will usually be required to open your toolbox for inspection, just to make sure you haven't given yourself a "bonus."

When you get home check your new part immediately to make sure it fits (if there is a warranty it will not last long). While it is still fresh in your mind, make a list of any other parts you saw that might be of use later, or that you should call your friends about. Share the adventure!

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