Saturday, July 13, 2024

Junkyard Tips for Beginners – Know Before You Go

For those of us who are wise to the ways of the junkyard, this article may seem a bit remedial. But for those car enthusiast who may not have experienced a solid “come up-ins” yet, the following information will get you ready for hitting your local yard safely, and with purpose.

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If you yard hunt, then you already know all the potential for your build that is just sitting on the ground about to be crushed. The junkyard provides endless possibilities for your build including nursing your car back to health, funding your build with junkyard parts, as well as adding some choice parts at a killer discount.

Before you go out there, I will share some tips that will make sure that your first, and subsequent visits are safe, fun and prosperous.

  • The Buddy System: Never is it more important than at the junkyard. Having a spotter will help you find you parts faster, pluck what you need with an extra set of hands, lug some heavier and bulkier parts, and more outlined below.
  • Safety first: The junkyard is not your local country club. The demographic you will encounter here is to the likes of the bad part of town, around 3am. If you followed tip 1 above then you’re halfway there. To be safe we are always strapped (please strap yourself with what is legal to carry in your local municipality…). Important as ever, keep an eye on your surroundings, watch whose floating around you, and keep your time down.

While the hunt is thrilling, this isn’t an amusement park.

  • Tools: You will want to prep your bag in advance. Having a good tool bag prepped with the most common tools you will need is key. The last thing you want is to get half way into a pluck, and realize you’re missing a tool. Happens half the time I’m at the yard, someone comes up asking to borrow a screwdriver. Really, you came to the junkyard and didn’t bring a screwdriver? We talk more about this in our article “Junkyard Go Bags – Here’s What You Need To Pack“, and expand more in tip 4 below.

Also important in this tip is keeping your tools close to you. Something about the junkyard makes tools grow legs and walk away. Never leave your tool bag out of site. There are people there just looking to grab tools, your tools.

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  • Know your parts: There are two reasons you’re going to the junkyard. The first is you are hunting for a specific part. Your wheel well cracked and ripped and you are going to get the exact replacement. The second is you are going to hunt for some upgrades for your car, or parts to resell. Either way, you have an idea what you are there to get. The advantage you have is you can specifically identify the tools you need, and removal process in advance. If you’re replacing a part on your car, you can do the removal at home, in a clean and controlled environment, which allows you to know step by step the process and the tools, which you will pack for the trip, and already have one removal process under your belt. This will save tons of time at the yard. If you’re looking to get an upgrade or other new part, watch some videos on YouTube to understand the process the best you can.

To add on to this tip, understand that parts on your car, are probably found on a few other models. For example, the hose or bracket you need for your Accord, may also be used on a Civic, a CR-V or a Pilot. A quick tool is the AutoZone parts application reference. While the tool isn’t primarily for you to score at the junkyard, it works great. Find the part you want on the AutoZone website, scroll down to “This Part Fits These Vehicles” and it will list all the other cars that use the same part. Now you have increased your chances at the yard, simply by knowing what other cars you can look at.

  • Wear Trashed Clothes: The yard is dirty, the cars are dirty, the ground is covered in grease and oil. You’re going to be getting intimate with these cars, so even if you’re trying your best to stay clean, it likely wont happen. Never wear good shoes, they will be ruined within 15 minutes just walking the rows. Old pants and maybe an old jacket work great to keep your good gear clean. We keep our yard shoes in the trunk and swap them before and after. The grease alone will ruin your floormats. The money you save at the yard isn’t a good deal if you ruin a fresh wardrobe.

  • Money: Cash is typically the preferred method of payment at the junkyard. You will have to pay an admission to get in, usually $3-$6. We still haven’t seen a card reader at the junkyard gate. The last thing you want to do is get all the way there, and then have to go hunt for an ATM. Stay away from large bills, we always try to roll up with $10 in singles for admission, and maybe the soda machine. Make sure you have your admission out and ready. You don’t want to be holding up the line, and you don’t want everyone to see you have $600 in your wallet, or you’re going to go missing without a trace somewhere in the domestics section. For parts, you can pay with a card, so don’t worry about that.
  • Hygiene: Even before the days of Covid, the junkyard was, and still is, one of the nastiest places you will ever visit. While we all keep our cars clean as a whistle, you’ve seen those who don’t. Now imagine starting with those cars, and letting them sit out in the sun and rain for weeks with windows down, and then have a thousand people who have been digging in their crack all day come and touch every part of the car. Mix in an impromptu outhouse made from the car you’re picking and you got the trifecta.  In your junkyard go bag should be disposable gloves, sanitizer and maybe a damp rag. This will allow you do keep clean while in the yard. Once you get out, you can go to a prepared cleaning station in your trunk. We bring a few bottles of water for hand washing, more sanitizer and a stack of damp rags. This way you can at least wash off half the funk before you get in your car.

  • Safety in the cars: This is huge. Understand that when you enter, that paper you sign is not attendance. It is you saying that if a car falls on your head and pops it like a grape, you were cool with it. The cars at the yard are stacked up on bulky jack stands placed down by a forklift. They plop and go, meaning they may not have made sure it was secure. The floor is often dirt or gravel, not like a nice level concrete floor in your garage you’re used to. Check the car your working on. If you’re working inside the car not a huge deal, but keep eyes open for loose and exposed dangers like metal edges and such. If you’re going under a car or inside a wheel well, do as my buddy Wilkins does, “First shake the car as much as possible, and then when you’re under, as little as possible…”

First shake the car as much as possible, and then when you’re under, as little as possible

  • Bathroom breaks: Every yard I’ve been to has a port-a-potty; I have never, and will never use that thing. Imagine a yard in the middle of the desert, in the middle of summer. It hasn’t been emptied in weeks, and remember the demographic in tip 2 above. Those are the people dumping it up in there. For a number 1, the ground or in a car works, remember the hygiene tip above, you can be a part of the problem. Just don’t get caught. For a number 2… we’ll, just try not to get in that situation.

  • Food and Beverage: Most yards have either a guy selling tacos and tamales out of their trunk, and if you’re lucky an actual taco truck…. eat at your own risk. What we like to do is pack some goods to keep us hydrated and something to munch on after an intense pick. We take a cooler bag full of water and Gatorades. They may have a soda machine, but likely it doesn’t work or they’re out of everything except diet-coke. For food, just some simple snack bars or fruit will be good. You just need to fight off that fully famished post-pick fatigue until you get close to home to hit a drive-thru.
  • Make friends: Not with the other patrons at the yard, but the staff who works there. This is the crew working the door, and especially the people working the checkout. You have to leave through  the same door, and it will include a full search of your bag, and maybe your person. We’ve found that small talk on the way in results in a smoother experience on the way out. The register people can make your trip a bang or bust. There are no bar codes on these parts, so the price is up to the worker’s interpretation, and often your attitude. Being pleasant at checkout could save you some cash. If you’re grabbing a rare part, and they don’t know, you may be able to “suggest” what it is”, saving you cash. Also, many times if you’re cool and polite, they wont charge you for the pocket parts (screws, bolts, small plastic clips) either.
  • Search before you show up: Most junkyards have a website parts search, or an app. We use the LKQ app. We can view inventory at local yards, check the prices of parts, and it even sends us alerts when cars we flagged come in. Knowing what you’re looking for is there is always nice. Otherwise you’re showing up and just walking the isles.

  • First Come, First Served. As most junkyards will say, they won’t hold parts. If you need or want it, get there and get there fast. I’ve been on scene the day a car has come in, and it looks good enough to be at a used car lot, wondering why it even made it here. Then weeks later looking at the same car, it’s stripped, ripped and left for the crusher. Further when people are trying to get to their part, they will often destroy everything in the way. It’s faster to cut and rip stuff out of the way, rather than to take it off properly.

You learn as you go, but with these tips, you should be able to stay safe, save some time, and have a good time overall. The junkyard can be intermediating at first, but with a few visits under your belt, you’ll love it as much as our team.

Joel Kenneth Smith
Joel Kenneth Smith
Living in Southern California since 84', Joel has been around the import scene for decades. Aside from a few of his own builds, he now keeps a close eye on the beat for new and upcoming rides. Further, he is a major contributor to the "How To" section of the website and doesn't mind hunting down choice parts at any local yard.

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