The word Junkyard is deceptive. Junkyards are full of hidden gems that can save you money, plus it is fun to search for the part you need and remove it yourself.
As a do-it-yourself car mechanic, I have saved hundreds of dollars by using junkyards. However, if you’re not prepared, getting parts from a junkyard can be frustrating and time-consuming.
Read on to learn everything you need to have a successful trip to the junkyard to get a quality alternator.
Are Junkyard Alternators Good?
Yes, there are many good alternators at junkyards. If you research and know which cars have alternators compatible with yours, you can almost always find a few options.
This post will help you know how to prepare, find, test, and secure a solid replacement alternator at a fraction of the cost of a new one.
Vehicles end up in the junkyard for many different reasons. Some are totaled, while others are deemed by their owners useless and sold to the junkyard. Many of the vehicles have no damage to the engine at all, since some vehicles are totaled because of side or rear end damage, which doesn’t affect the engine.
A failing alternator is not a reason why a car would be brought to the scrapyard, so you can trust that the last time the car was running, the alternator was probably working too.
Even though a car is at the junkyard, it can still have many parts that run properly. The longer a car is at a junkyard, the more picked apart it becomes, until it is just a shell. If you find a car that doesn’t have an alternator, odds are there are other cars that will.
Also read: Are Junkyard Parts OK? Which Parts Shouldn’t You Buy?
Is it Hard to Find the Right Alternator in a Junkyard?
If your vehicle is a common make and model, it is relatively easy to locate a good alternator, but it can sometimes be a challenge to find the right alternator if you have an older or less-common car.
Junkyards have hundreds of cars, which means hundreds of alternators. But how do you make sure you find the right one?
Finding a good alternator starts before you get to the junkyard. First, check online to see if your make and model is available at the junkyard. If that information is unavailable, employees at the junkyard will have the information you need if you give them a call. Check the current cars and how long they have been there. Junkyards sometimes include pictures of the cars, so you can get an idea of what to expect.
Next, look at where your alternator is located. Where is it attached? Will you have to move anything to get to it? What kind of tools will you need to get it out? After that, collect the tools you will need. Walking into a junkyard with the right tools and a clear vision of what you need will help you have a successful trip.
Many junkyards are called “pick and pull,” meaning customers find and remove the auto parts they need, which means the parts are cheaper. If a junkyard removes the parts for customers (commonly called auto salvage), expect to pay a higher price for your used auto parts.
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When you are at the junkyard, make sure to check out a few of the cars with the alternator you need. Even if the first car you look at has an alternator, take a note of it, and then check out a few others. Then you will have a good idea of the available alternators and their conditions.
If you have an older car, you will have to be more diligent in contacting junkyards and asking if they have received any of the cars you’re looking for. Sometimes parts for older cars go faster because they are rarer. If you stay on top of finding out what cars the scrapyard gets, you can be the first to pull from new vehicles.
A helpful hint is to give yourself plenty of time in the junkyard. It can take time to find the right cars with the right parts, but the search is rewarding once you find what you’re looking for. Rushing around the junkyard could cause you to miss a good part.
Also read: Is Replacing an Alternator Hard? (5 Easy Steps)
What are the Risks of Buying an Alternator from a Junkyard?
The main risk of buying an alternator from a junkyard is that it may or may not work— you don’t know how it’s been treated. It could be coming from a car that was driven hard miles hauling heavy loads or speeding up and slowing down quickly. On the other hand, it could be coming from a car that was well taken care of.
Another risk is that junkyard cars don’t have batteries, so it isn’t possible to test the alternator by starting the car. Additionally, junkyards don’t track which parts are taken from which cars. So even though they might have your make and model, it’s possible that the alternator has already been taken.
There is also a risk of being unable to remove the alternator from the junkyard car. Some bolts will be stuck and other parts of the engine will have to be moved around, you can get to the alternator. Things will have to be moved, so the more tools you have, the better. To give yourself the best chance, bring the tools you think you’ll need, and then bring more.
On a practical level, all the cars, parts, and tools lying around make it risky. Make sure to bring durable boots and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
What to Look for When Buying an Alternator from a Junkyard?
Once you find a car with an alternator that is compatible with your car, look at the car to see where the damage is. If the damage is anywhere but the front end, odds are the alternator is in good shape. If the front end is damaged, the alternator might be affected from a wreck or natural disaster.
Also, look for the year of the car. Many junkyards will write it on the side of the car. The newer the car, the newer the alternator will be, and the more likely it will be functional.
Another helpful thing to look for is if the car that has an alternator has a hood on it. Sometimes the hood will be missing or bent out of shape, so it doesn’t cover the engine. If this is the case, it’s likely that the alternator has been in the elements as the car has sat in the junkyard. It is better to find a car that is protected from the elements by the hood.
Lastly, look to make sure it’s the right model of alternator before you start removing it from the car. Looking for these things will give you the best chance of finding a good alternator.
Also read: 10 Cars Under $20K that Look Like They’re for $50K+
How Can You Test a Junkyard Alternator?
There is no sure way to test an alternator without a battery, and since junkyard cars don’t have batteries, the best way to test your new alternator is to remove it from the car and take it to the nearest auto shop, where they test alternators for free.
When doing this, make sure you know what the return policy of the junkyard is, and make sure you can get your money back if your alternator is faulty.
How Much Should You Pay for a Junkyard Alternator?
Expect to pay around $50 for an alternator from a junkyard. It will be a little more than that if the junkyard pulls off the part for you. This is compared to $150-$300 for a brand-new alternator, even more, if you have a mechanic install it for you.
If you are unsure about removing your old alternator and putting on a new one, a pick and pull style junkyard provides practice as you remove the alternator from the junkyard car—you will be paying for an alternator, but getting the skills for free.
Can You Return the Junkyard Alternator if it’s not Right?
Most junkyards have a 30-day return policy. But they require the original receipt and markings on the used auto parts from the junkyard. The junkyard uses a paint pen to mark everything you buy. Even after the alternator is installed, it’s smart to keep the markings in case it goes bad before 30 days of owning it.
When returning a product, you can either get your money back or exchange the faulty alternator with a different one.
Return policies help to take some of the risk out of buying a used alternator. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always return it, but you will keep the skills learned during the installation and removal.
Finding used auto parts at a junkyard is different than buying them at a store. At a junkyard, you get to use more creativity and skill, and the reward is functional parts for a fraction of the price. Getting a new alternator can be expensive, but junkyards help to bring the cost down and get you back on the road. If you are willing to get your hands dirty and hunt for the right part, your local junkyard is waiting for you.