Guidance for buying an auto part at a junkyard
September 5, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Should I get a car part at a junkyard/salvage yard/auto recycler, and how do I go about it?

I need a side mirror assembly for a 1998 Nissan Sentra. Should I get it at a junkyard? I already asked my mechanic if they had a specific junkyard they worked with, and they told me to call around from the yellow pages and ask everyone if they had the part. I live in Seattle, and from the yellow pages, it appears that most salvage yards are in the outlying industrial areas. Would it be worth it to drive over 30 minutes each way just to save $50-$100? Are junkyards scary? Should I bring a male friend with me if I go to one? Any other tips and techniques to make the transaction quick and painless and economical? I've already looked on Car Talk but their guide was not very helpful.
posted by matildaben to Shopping (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know from Seattle, but the general answer is "Yes, it's worth it. No, they're not scary. Yes, you should just call around, making sure to get the best price."
posted by klangklangston at 11:15 AM on September 5, 2006

They aren't scary. There are people working there. They are fenced to keep theives out. They are a normal business like any other. Bring some tools with you to get the part you want off the car.
posted by dead_ at 1:44 PM on September 5, 2006

You can also find used auto parts online.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2006

Yes call around to all of them and find out what the best price is and then ask the one who's closest to you to beat it. Make sure to specify the side of the car and the color. I've installed tons of mirrors myself from parking on the streets of Brooklyn most of my life and I've yet to by one from a dealer. Usually can pick one up for around $25.
posted by any major dude at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2006

It's a piece of cake - fun, even - except you might find yourself wandering acres of cars before you find the Nissan you need (usually they split them up import/domestic at least). Just check out the one you already have and familiarize yourself with how to get it off - probably a biggish phillips screwdriver will be what you need, and a flat one to prise off the trim to get at the anchor screws. I've spent a lot of time around such places and must have looked pretty out of place too, but junk yards aren't anything to be afraid of, and you'll save a lot of money.
posted by Flashman at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2006

Same DB the junkyards use to look up a part when you call and they don't have it. Use it to locate your part, then call the appropriate yard.

I've bought many parts for my Neon from yards at this site. I lived in AZ and have bought as far away as the NE states with no problems.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 1:58 PM on September 5, 2006

Yes it's worth it. Yes it's fun. No it's not scary. If you don't know anything at all about cars, bring someone who does.
posted by muddgirl at 2:04 PM on September 5, 2006

Yes, it's worth it. My mechanic recently got a whole central locking mechanism for my old Ford Escort from the parts yard he's dealt with for years.

For me, I'd be happy to look myself for something non-mechanical (such as a mirror) but am happy to leave it to my mechanic to source any parts that need his expert eye.
posted by essexjan at 2:14 PM on September 5, 2006

Not every junk yard is a "pull-a-part" where you go out into the yard and take off the part you need yourself. In fact, for safety and theft prevention reasons, more salvage yards these days do the work of taking off the parts themselves, and you get the parts across a counter, pretty much as if you were in a used parts store.

Most yards work off a "bull wire," which is a throwback to the days where many yards in a region subscribed to a private phone network, where a call stayed nailed up constantly, and any requests for any part a customer needed at any yard on the network were just called out to all the yards, so that whatever yard had the part could pull it, and ship it to the yard where the customer was for next day pickup, sharing the sale proceeds between the cooperating yards. Nowadays, it's all done by Internet forum postings between the yards, but the process is intended to be so transparent to the customer, he never knows if the part is coming from the yard he is dealing with, or another yard in the network, except for the shipping delay. You might want to call around before heading out to any particular yard, to verify they have or can get the part, and get a price, but the "bull wire" system makes shopping for parts between major yards a pretty boring process.

I bought an air conditioner compressor for a 1997 Dodge Intrepid a few months back for $103 with a 30 day warranty, which would have been a $980 part, as a factory rebuild. "Surprisingly," it was between $100 and $110 at all 4 yards I called, before I picked it up at a counter operation (basically, a mobile trailer pickup point with a small tow yard for incoming wrecks and junkers) between a couple of car dealerships a few blocks from my house, in Jacksonville, FL. More and more, yards are delivering to these counter operations, to improve business by saving customers the drive to their major salvage operations, and to work with local tow operators and police on picking up junkers for economical transport to their main salvage yards.

One thing you might want to verify is that your mirror doesn't have any remote or power adjuster mechanism, or if it does, that yours is working properly, or you get that cable adjuster mechanism, too. Some mirrors with power adjusters won't hold a setting unless the adjuster cable is present to hold tension.
posted by paulsc at 2:18 PM on September 5, 2006

The movement of the mirror is controlled from within the car by some sort of power mechanism. All the wires are still present and working, it's just the "shell" of the mirror that got knocked off. However, my mechanic said they would just replace the whole assembly.
posted by matildaben at 2:26 PM on September 5, 2006

Sure, it's fun and worth it. And yet, I have prowled many a junkyard seeking replacement side mirrorrs. You'll be full of anticipation, then possibly disgust, as you notice how every '98 Nissan Sentra you encounter already has its side mirrors removed.
posted by Rash at 3:48 PM on September 5, 2006

Mirrors are perfect for getting from a junkyard. It is either good or not, and you can tell by looking at it.

I got a tail light cover for my partner's car from a junk yard. No one looked at me funny for being female, or asked anything besides what year, make and model.

The yard's I've gone to get the part for you.
posted by QIbHom at 4:00 PM on September 5, 2006

Most junkyards such as Pick Your Part or Pick & Pull charge you one or two dollars to enter the yard, and from there you're on your own to find whatever parts you want. As others have noted, the vehicles are separated first into American and foreign, and then by makes.

Most cars and trucks of one make have many interchangable parts--the mirror assembly you need may be identical to those on other Nissans of similar years, but you'll want to bring your old part with you to make certain you get the correct part at the junkyard--most junkyards have a no-return policy, and returns are offered only if you pay extra for "insurance".

You'll need to bring all your own tools and know-how, but sometimes if you need a tool or have a question you can ask a fellow junkyard-goer if he or she has a tool you can borrow or knows how to remove a part.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:08 PM on September 5, 2006

I went and pulled a car seat once in this manner. It was great! Yeah, it had been outside and it required a little cleaning, but I was happy with the results.

More complicated stuff isn't that bad, either. I had a used transmission put it once that did me just fine.

You'll find that these places tend to be populated by working stiffs, and most of them are fairly honest.
posted by adipocere at 4:27 PM on September 5, 2006

It can be a big fun adventure with a feeling of accomplishment to go to one of these pick your part yards. If you do not like dirty, greasy work and do not own tools you may not like it but it is an experience!
posted by Iron Rat at 4:32 PM on September 5, 2006

Let me be the fortieth person to say go for it. I spent many an hour prowling the junkyards in high school, sometimes (often times?) coming out empty-handed. Sometimes I went for some obscure trim piece and they often just let me take it.

My advice would be to try and go to a place that looks to be family-owned. It's more likely they'll allow you to go in the yard yourself, be more friendly, perhaps offer a better price, and almost certainly not charge you the $2 entrance fee of the big guys. In any case, if you find a yard with a Sentra that hasn't been totally stripped, keep it in the back of your mind for the next time something breaks on your car (though some things you should certainly buy new--e.g. brakes and suspension components).
posted by heydanno at 5:04 PM on September 5, 2006

Go to Ballard, or call the folks in Ballard, assuming they are still there, right under [or next to] the Ballard bridge right by that excellent little brewery. They often have parts and you don't have to rip the car apart yourself to get them. I *think* this is them BALLARD AUTO WRECKING CO, 206-782-8696. I have gotten miscellaneous knobs and stuff from them, If they don't have what you need [call with make and model of car blah blah blah, decide ahead of time if color is important] see if you can ask them who else might have it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:25 PM on September 5, 2006

There is nothing scary about junkyards. I worked in one as a secretary/inventory bitch for a summer with my brother. (The place I worked was a place where you would wait in the reception area (aka ripped up bench seat) and we would get the part for you. Just make sure you know the make, model, what side you need, possibly color, and sometimes, year.

Good luck finding your part!
posted by sperose at 9:53 PM on September 5, 2006

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