Buying a Junk Car from a Junkyard: A Step-by-Step Guide

Many people do not realize that junkyards often sell as many junk cars as they purchase. Many junkyards offer used cars, junk cars, parts cars, and rebuilt salvage cars for sale to the general public. There are two common reasons to purchase a junk vehicle. The first is to use as a parts car for the repair or restoration of a similar vehicle. The second most popular reason to buy a car from a junkyard is to get a cheap rebuilt salvage vehicle that will get from point A to point B for a very small investment.

In either case, buying a junk vehicle from a junkyard, salvage yard, or auto dismantler is a straightforward process. Here are the 4 steps to buying a junk car.

Step 1: Find junkyards in your area.

The first step in buying a junk vehicle is to find a junkyard in your area. Most cities have at least one junkyard. Residents in cities that do not allow junk car facilities to operate within city limits can usually find junkyards in nearby suburbs or unincorporated county land. A local Google search for best junkyards near me will return a short list of local junkyards.

Here are a few things to look for as you review the Google local listing for each junkyard.

  • Convenience, including location and hours of operation
  • Evidence of customer service experiences and resolutions
  • Whether or not they have a searchable inventory of vehicles online
  • Evidence of fair prices and transparent pricing of junk cars sold from the lot

There are usually only a few junkyards in the area, and you never know which one will have what you need. It’s not unusual to need to call every junkyard in the area to find what you are looking for. Once you have a list of area junkyards, prioritize the junkyards based on which ones you would prefer to work with. This allows you to easily work through the junkyards starting with the best when you start looking for the vehicle.

Step 2: Check requirements for salvage vehicles in your state.

It is important to know the laws for how used vehicles and junk cars can be used in your state. This can be discovered on your local DMV website, or by calling your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The only concern when planning to restore classic vehicles is local junk car storage and residential vehicle repair ordinances. However, when planning to register and drive the vehicle purchased from a junkyard one must know the laws regarding used vehicle registration and operation.

Most states have regulations in place for dealers selling used vehicles. These regulations are there to protect the average car buyer and consumers in general. Most states have laws regarding odometer reading verification, as well as safety inspection requirements. Some states have emissions requirements as well, although some of these have been rescinded as of late. All of these regulations must be met for the vehicle to be legally registered and driven.

It is possible to buy a salvage car from a junkyard and restore it yourself, but you must be familiar with the standards for safety and emissions set by your state. Your state DMV will likely require inspections from a licensed auto mechanic when the rebuilding is done at the hobby level. Many states also have a specific process for how to apply for a title and registration after a vehicle has been rebuilt. Applying for a rebuilt salvage title may or may not be simple. Check with your local DMV to determine requirements for registration of rebuilt salvage vehicles.

Step 3: Find the vehicle you want to purchase from the junkyard.

If you are looking for a parts car to use in the repair and restoration of another vehicle, getting the exact vehicle is important. Many junkyards today have online inventory systems that allow you to search their inventory of junk vehicles and rebuild salvage cars, but these are not necessarily updated regularly. The best way to know if a junkyard has the vehicle you need is to call them directly.

If you are looking for a rebuilt salvage car to purchase as a daily driver, start with the best junkyard and browse their inventory of salvage cars for sale. Most junkyards selling used cars have a used car inventory on their website. Those that do not will have a small salvage lot separate from the main junkyard in which they rebuild and sell rebuilt salvage vehicles where you can browse and check out the cars for yourself. You may also be able to find out what cars are available for sale by calling the junkyard.

If you do not find a salvage vehicle that meets your needs at the best junkyards, decide on if you can use a different rebuilt car or parts car or if you need to expand your search. The closer the junkyard is to you the lower the overall cost of purchasing the junk vehicle.

Step 4: Negotiate the price of the junk vehicle from the junkyard.

Like other used car dealers, junkyards usually have a sticker price on their used cars. And, like other used car dealers, you can treat this sticker price as a starting point. The bottom line is that the junkyard invested parts and labor to rebuild these vehicles, and being able to sell them quickly protects the company’s cash flow. Negotiation is always a possibility.

Effective negotiation on prices for cars from junkyards requires some background research. In particular, you should gather the following numbers to use in your negotiations.

  • Fair market value of the vehicle. When purchasing a rebuilt salvage vehicle from a junkyard, look up the fair market value of the vehicle in its current condition. The most popular way to determine fair market value of a vehicle is by using the Kelly Blue Book (KBB) valuation system. The organization offers a quick lookup of market value based on year, make, model, and condition using an easy on-site search tool. From there you can make a determination of the most you are willing to pay for the junk vehicle.
  • Fair scrap value of the vehicle. When purchasing a junk vehicle for use in the repair or restoration of another vehicle one must know the current average scrap car prices for the vehicle they need. Google searches will quickly reveal average junk car values based on year, make, and model. According to Auto Auction Mall, expect the junkyard to charge 25-45% markup over scrap values found online.
  • Included service and documentation. Every state has requirements for emissions or safety that must be met before the vehicle can be sold by the junkyard. Make sure that the junkyard complies with all safety, emissions, and odometer requirements. If they do not offer these, the price for the junk car should be dramatically decreased.

Before you can negotiate a price you need to set a reasonable budget. Here are two ways you can determine a reasonable budget to buy a car from a junkyard depending on if you are buying a rebuilt car or a parts car.

When buying a car from a junkyard to use for parts, it is important to ensure that the amount you pay for the junk car is less than what you would pay for each individual part from the junkyard, whether they pulled it or you did.

Setting a budget for rebuilt salvage cars is a bit trickier, but there is a simple way to set a reasonable budget for the car from the junkyard. Calculate how much you will save per month by having a vehicle at your disposal, then multiplying that number by the number of months you expect the vehicle to last. Know the top price you’re willing to pay and be ready to walk if necessary.

FAQs about buying cars from junkyards

Here are the most frequently asked questions we get about buying cars from junkyards.

What are the common cars found on a junkyard?

The most common cars found in a junkyard include the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram trucks; the PT Cruiser; the Ford Taurus, Escort, and other Ford sedans; Pontiac Grand Am; and Dodge and Chrysler minivans. These are the most in demand vehicles for both used car parts and as rebuilt salvage vehicles.

What used parts are worth to purchase from a junkyard?

It is difficult to determine whether or not a vehicle part is functional. For this reason, experts suggest that people avoid buying major mechanical components without guarantee of function or replacement. This includes expensive used car parts like engines and transmissions. After market parts and exterior accessories like mirrors, GPS systems, rims, fenders, doors, and bumpers.

What are the things to consider in buying a car from a junkyard?

There are a few things you should consider when buying a car from a junkyard based on how that car will be used. When buying a salvage car to use in daily local transportation, make sure that the vehicle comes with all required inspections and documentation to enable you to title and register the vehicle for legal driving.

When buying a junk car to salvage for parts in repairing another vehicle, consider the cost of the junk car as a whole compared to the parts you need to salvage from it. Let’s assume you are buying a car from a junkyard to salvage both body parts and hopefully a working engine and transmission. Weight the value of the used parts you need against the cost of the entire junk car.

For example, the average price of an engine from a junkyard is $50 to $500, while the online Transmission Repair Cost Guide lists the average price of a used transmission at $800 to $1400. If you were able to use both of these parts in addition to others, paying as much as $2000 for the parts car may not be unreasonable.

What are the advantages of buying a car from a junkyard?

The biggest advantage to buying a car from a junkyard is the price. Used car prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic, as noted by local news stations across the country. As used car prices have increased, so have the number of people getting outrageously costly financing for used cars that a few years ago would have only been offered at a cash price. Cars sold by junkyards ready to drive are a blessing to those without other modes of transportation and little funds on hand. Cars from a junkyard are not likely to last long, but they can be a step up to a better vehicle down the road.

What are the disadvantages of buying a car from a junkyard?

Junkyards will sell all the cars on their auto salvage lot as is, and they may not be sufficiently aware of the vehicle’s history or condition to disclose such issues. As such, there is little recourse if you buy a lemon from a junkyard. The only way you can really hold a junkyard accountable is if they certify the vehicle as a rebuilt salvage vehicle with all appropriate inspection documents, but it is clear that the vehicle could not have passed such inspections at the time it was purchased.

Do junkyards sell cars near me?

You will need to call local junkyards to find out if they sell cars near you. Most junkyards today do sell rebuilt salvage vehicles because the demand for cheap used cars has increased so much in the last three years since the start of the pandemic. However, Forbes reports that economists expect used car prices to start falling in the first quarter of 2023, which would decrease the need for salvage vehicles from junkyards.

Is it okay to buy car from a junkyard near me?

It is okay to buy a car from a junkyard near you as long as you are sure about what you are buying. Go into the experience with reasonable expectations and eyes wide open. Any vehicle you purchase from a junkyard is not going to stay on the road for long. It may be rebuilt enough to pass inspections and be registered to drive on the roads, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have other issues that could make the car decrepit and inoperable in short order. Take care in maintenance of used cars bought from junkyards and know that you may need to replace the vehicle sooner than later.

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