Are Junkyard Parts OK? Which Parts Shouldn’t You Buy?

Sometimes it can be a smart choice to explore options of used parts for your vehicle from a junkyard.

It is often okay to find long-life, non-wear-item parts, and components for your vehicle second-hand, such as at a junkyard.

Auto repair can be a very pricey endeavor sometimes. Keen car owners can find good discounts on parts with plenty of life left in them at their local junkyard, breaker’s yard, or pull-a-part location.

With the tips in this article, you can make informed decisions about used junkyard parts for your vehicle in order to save money making necessary repairs.

Are Junkyard Parts Any Good?

Junkyard parts can be perfectly suitable replacement parts for your vehicle, so long as they are in good condition and not particularly susceptible to wear over time or deterioration due to outdoor elements.

Many metal vehicle components, like an alternator, wheel, suspension parts, or even entire engines and transmissions can be good candidates for purchase from a junkyard.

It is important to perform a good visual inspection of whatever parts you plan on purchasing from a junkyard to ensure that the part is suitable for continued use on your own vehicle.

So long as the parts are not overly rusted or corroded, metal parts do not degrade very much over time compared to parts made of plastic, rubber, or composite materials. Parts made of these materials tend to grow dry and brittle with age, taking on cracks or holes that may not be visible to the naked eye that make them bad replacement parts.

However, even with parts that appear to be in perfect working condition, you can sometimes purchase non-functional parts at a junkyard. This risk is part of the reason they can be so inexpensive!

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Why is it a Good Idea to Buy Junkyard Parts?

It can often be a good idea to buy used parts from a junkyard in order to save money on expensive repair parts, find high-quality factory repair parts, and find parts that may no longer be available in the aftermarket.

For example, if your vehicle has a bad engine and requires replacement, a new engine can be prohibitively expensive for most owners. A new crate engine can cost thousands of dollars.

However, you may be able to find a running engine in a junkyard from a similar vehicle that was in a collision that did not affect the engine for only a few hundred dollars. Likely it will not even require an engine rebuild and will provide many more miles of dutiful service for your vehicle.

Read more about junkyard engines here.

Even smaller components, such as an alternator, cost significantly less when purchased from a junkyard. A $150 new alternator at the parts store may only cost $20-$50 at a junkyard for a part that still has plenty of life left in it. More about junkyard alternators in this post.

Sometimes used junkyard parts can be higher quality than brand new aftermarket parts. In general, a vehicle’s manufacturer uses very high-quality parts on the factory floor to produce a quality vehicle.

Aftermarket parts from other vendors, however, sometimes lack quality or cut corners in order to meet a lower price point or increase profits.

For example, an original fuel pump may last for hundreds of thousands of miles without issue, but an aftermarket fuel pump may not last nearly as long if it is made to a lower quality to save money.

Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 aftermarket parts to find one that works at all. In this case, a factory part off of a vehicle in a junkyard would be a very smart alternative.

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In some situations, certain spare parts are only available at junkyards. If you have an older vehicle, you may not be able to find body parts, bumpers, interior parts, etc., anywhere as a brand new replacement part.

In this case, the only option would be to find a good condition part from a junkyard.

What are Some Dangers of Buying Used Parts?

The biggest danger of buying used parts from a junkyard is that the part simply does not function properly.

Often, vehicles in a junkyard are not in running or driving condition. It can be difficult or impossible to thoroughly test parts to be 100% sure it is still functional.

Some parts can be tested if you bring a battery to provide electrical power to either try and start the vehicle or just power a single component, such as a fuel pump or radio.

Other parts, such as engine parts or suspension parts, may have issues that do not reveal themselves upon the limited inspection that can be performed at a junkyard.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about this, and part of the trade-off of low prices of used parts is the risk that the part may not be good anymore.

Some junkyards offer a part warranty at an extra cost that allows the part to be returned if it doesn’t work. This extra cost can be worth it, depending on the cost of the part.

Which Car Parts are Okay to Buy From a Junkyard?

The best parts to buy at the junkyard are components made of metal that are painted or free of rust or corrosion.

Junkyard engine and transmission parts are often worth the savings, so long as the vehicle is not in the junkyard due to engine or transmission failure.

Plastic or rubber parts are bad candidates for purchase from a junkyard as plastics and rubber degrade quickly sitting outside in the elements without being used regularly.

Body panels, bumpers, and other exterior parts can be good finds at a junkyard, especially if they are going to be repainted or reconditioned anyway.

Suspension parts are also okay to purchase from a junkyard, as long as any rubber seals, bushings, etc., are replaced.

Used wheels are a great value at the junkyard, but be sure to put new tires on them!

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How Can You Make Sure that You Find the Right Part?

In order to ensure that you buy the right part, it is important to do adequate research before going to the junkyard to look for parts.

The internet is full of websites that list compatible model year ranges for parts for your vehicle.

Often, a part will be the same for several different years of the same vehicle.

Part numbers can even be the same between vehicles from different manufacturers and will work with a vehicle from another manufacturer.

Online forums for your particular vehicle can also be a valuable tool for knowing which part is the right part at the junkyard. Sometimes the other users on the site have had the same issue and can tell you the exact part numbers and model year range to look for at the junkyard.

However, some parts were only built for one car, for one year only. In extreme cases, certain parts may only be compatible with either early or late production models from that year.

Many junkyards will not accept returns and those that may not accept returns if you purchase the wrong part if the part is functional.

This is why it is incredibly important to research which parts are compatible with your vehicle before visiting the junkyard!

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What Type of Junkyard Should You Visit?

The type of junkyard you should visit depends on the vehicle you have and the type of part you need to purchase.

Some junkyards may only specialize in certain vehicles, such as German cars, American cars, or classic cars. These vehicle-specific lots are more valuable than generic junkyards, as there is a greater chance of finding the correct part for your vehicle if your vehicle fits into the specialized theme of the yard.

A little common sense can go a long way in finding the right junkyard.

For instance, if you need an engine part, it may be better to go to a junkyard full of vehicles that were involved in collisions. While the body and suspension may be severely damaged, the engine and transmission may still be in perfectly good running condition.

Likewise, if you need body parts or suspension parts, it is better to go to a junkyard that has many vehicles with engine issues. If a car was sent to a junkyard for mechanical issues, it likely has serviceable body parts and good suspension parts that can be taken off.

Doing research before your visit to a junkyard can stop you from wasting time at junkyards without suitable parts to fit your need.

Tips on How to Make Good Purchases at the Junkyard

The three biggest tips for purchasing used parts at the junkyard are: proper research, a thorough inspection, and asking the junkyard about a warranty.

Proper research is important in order to ensure you are finding the right parts for your vehicle.

Bring a copy of your vehicle’s VIN along, as sometimes a junkyard will have a computer system telling you where to look for compatible vehicles.

Do a thorough inspection of not only the part itself but also the entire vehicle the part is coming off of, if possible. Overall condition of the vehicle and noting damage can help you judge the condition of the part you need to take off.

Finally, remember to ask the junkyard if they offer a warranty on their parts. For only a few extra dollars, it can be good peace of mind to know you can return a part to the junkyard if it turns out to be non-functional. This can save a lot of money and heartache, especially on expensive parts.

Overall, do your due diligence and remember, all vehicles are in the junkyard for a reason!