More Than Junk: Automotive Scrapyards

With the life-to-scrap cycle of a motor vehicle averaging about 20 years, there comes a time when keeping the vehicle in good working order may not always justify the expense of new parts and/or equipment. Consider visiting your local automotive junkyard for used parts and equipment that is often considerably less than the cost of new or rebuilt parts and components. In addition to the obvious car body parts like fenders, windows and seats, you can also find good used tires and even used owner’s manuals.

The formal definition of a “junkyard” or salvage yard is a business that dismantles wrecked or decommissioned vehicles with usable parts sold for use in operating vehicles. The unusable metal parts, known as scrap metal, are sold to metal-recycling companies. Approximately 12 to 15 million vehicles a year in the United States find there way to a junkyard. About 75% of any given vehicle can be recycled, yielding the steel industry some 14 million tons of steel.

Salvage yards also buy most of the wrecked, derelict and abandoned vehicles that are sold at auction from police impound storage lots, and often buy vehicles from insurance tow yards as well. Some yards keep inventories in their offices, as to the usable parts in each car, as well as the car’s location in the yard. Many yards have computerized inventory systems.

In recent years it is becoming increasingly common to use satellite part finder services to contact multiple salvage yards from a single source. Many of these are internet-based with requests for parts being e-mailed instantly. Often parts for which there is high demand are removed from cars and brought to the salvage yard’s warehouse. Then a customer who asks for a specific part can get it immediately, without having to wait for the salvage yard employees to remove that part.

The parts typically dismantled from automobiles are generally any that can be re-sold such as the light assemblies (headlights, front/rear turn signal lights, taillights), seats, parts of the exhaust system, mirrors, hubcaps etc. Late model vehicles will often have entire halves or sections of the body removed and stored on shelves as inventory.

Other major parts such as the engine and transmission are often removed and sold, usually to auto-parts companies that will rebuild the part and resell it with a warranty, or will sell the components as-is in used condition, either with or without warranty. Other, usually very large, junkyards will rebuild and sell such parts themselves. Unbroken windshields and windows may also be removed intact and resold to car-owners needing replacements.

Some salvage yards will sell damaged or wrecked but repairable vehicles to amateur car builders, or older vehicles to collectors, who will restore (“rebuild”) the car for their own use or entertainment, or sometimes for re-sale. These cars are known as “rebuilders”.

Once vehicles in a wrecking yard have no more usable parts, the hulks are usually sold to a scrap-metal processor, who will usually crush the bodies on-site at the yard’s premises using a mobile baling press, shredder, or flattener, with final disposal occurring within a hammer mill which literally smashes the vehicle remains into fist sized chunks. These chunk-sized scrap is then sold by the ton to a steel mill for recycling.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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