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Scrap and Salvage Yards: Turn Your Car From Trash to Treasure

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

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Did you know that by the end of 2020 there will be roughly 287.3 million registered cars in the United States? That’s almost one car per person!

If there are so many cars, then what happens to the thousands of them that stop working every year? The answer: salvage & scrap yards. These places of business are responsible for recycling the valuable parts of unusable cars.

While some people may view these centers as junkyards, there is a lot of money to be made. The most popular way to make money is to sell your entire car.

However, if you’re looking to upgrade, then you can also find recycled vehicle parts at a discount. In this article, we’ll cover all the ways you can turn trash into cash. Let’s get started!

Salvage & Scrap Yards: What’s the Difference?

Before we begin it’s important to go over the differences between salvage yards and scrap yards. Many people think these two types of business are interchangeable. However, this is incorrect.

While they may operate similarly, salvage and scrap yards have some important distinctions. These differences can determine which one will work best for your specific needs. Let’s start with salvage yards.

Salvage Yards

Salvage yards go by lots of different names — auto recycling centers, parts yards, and junkyards, just to name a few. These establishments buy cars that are no longer usable and sell the individuals parts that still function.

Once all the usable parts have been sold, then the yard will crush the car for scrap metal. They then ship this material to a refinery or metal recycling plant. The vehicles could be wrecked, no longer running, or simply too expensive to repair.

Regardless of their condition, there are likely usable parts that the salvage yard can sell. Because of this, salvage yards typically pay more for cars than scrap yards. Salvage yards also perform an important environmental service.

Old vehicles that are left to sit can leak out hazardous liquids. This discharge can seep into the sewers which affect our groundwater reserves. Proper salvage yards will safely drain this liquid so that it doesn’t present an ecological hazard.

Scrap Yards

Scrap yards purchase metal material from a variety of sources. They don’t limit themselves to just vehicles. You can also bring household appliances, copper wires, and aluminum cans to these establishments.

So what type of material do they look for? Heavy metals like zinc, aluminum, and copper. Scrap yards purchase these materials in bulk — usually in the tons. They then sell them metals to refineries for a premium.

All the material gets recycled, so scrap yards are also good for the environment. Typically if you’re getting rid of a car you’re better off going to a salvage yard. Why? Because they will pay for all of the usable car parts — not just the ones made from metal they want.

When Should You Sell Your Car to a Salvage Yard?

It’s not always when to give up on a car. Some people keep them around as future projects.

Or, they may be unsure if they should repair it or scrape it. Ultimately, it comes down to money and usability. Here are three signs that you should sell your car to a salvage yard instead of saving it.

1. The Repairs Are Too Expensive

There comes a point when cars start to become a money hole when it comes to repairs. Often this occurs when the repair price is more than that car’s current value. However, this isn’t always the case.

Some vehicles can go through a second life with a new part installed. Ultimately, it comes down to your specific financial situation. If you can’t afford repairs, then it may be best to try and get as much money as you can from a salvage yard.

We recommend consulting a mechanic to get a second opinion. A friendly one will be able to tell you if it’s worth it sinking more money into the vehicle. You can also check out our guide for more questions to ask yourself when it comes to repairs.

2. The Vehicle Was Totaled

A totaled vehicle is another obvious to consider a salvage yard. Even if the vehicle is destroyed you can still get a little money out of scrap metal. However, you may want to first try going through your insurance company first.

At the very least they can get an appraisal on the car or its parts. If a lot of the car’s parts are still functional, then you may want to consider going with a private buyer. However, it’s important to remember that these can be difficult to find.

Individuals are wary of buying totaled vehicles. So, you will need to either convince or have a connection. Make sure to follow our advice on getting the most out of a totaled car.

3. The Junker Is Taking up Space

No one likes the sight of a junk car in the street or yard. They can take up parking spaces, lower property values, and pollute the environment.

Often people keep these junkers because they’re convinced they’ll restore it. But if you want some money or space, then it may be worth it to give up the dream.

What Are the Most Valuable Junk Parts?

You may be wondering which junk parts on your car can get you the most money. The catalytic converter is an important salvageable part. Why? Because a lot of catalytic converters are made out of platinum.

Platinum is one of the more valuable precious metals. One Troy Ounce of it is worth $965. After platinum comes to copper and aluminum. Aluminum can be found in areas like your radiator, wheel rims, pistons, and engine cylinders.

The material is valuable because it’s a lightweight design. It also reduces fuel consumption which means fewer emissions in the air. Copper on the other hand is valued for its electric conductivity.

You can find copper in the wiring throughout your vehicle. It’s also frequently located in the starters and alternators. Next, you can get some money out of the steel found in your car’s frame.

Steel is currently valued at $541.72 per ton, so you can get a lot depending on the weight of your vehicle. Besides these raw scrapes, you can usually also get additional money for the electronic components.

Things like the battery, sound system, radio, stereos, and GPS systems are some good examples. If you want a more detailed guide to scrap prices, make sure to check out our comprehensive guide.

Should You Scrap the Car Yourself or Hire a Professional?

Ultimately, the answer to this question comes down to your skill levels. If you’re knowledgeable in car repair and engineering, then you may prefer scraping the parts yourself.

If you manage to secure private buyers, then you can make a good deal of money. However, doing so can be easier said than done. Selling your car to a professional salvage yard may be the better option for most individuals.

For one thing, it saves you time and labor. No need to sweat over removing the car body, the parts, and finding a buyer.

Salvage yards are also usually better for the environment. Unless you properly drain and dispose of the fluids from your car, then you will be causing ecological harm.

What Are Scrap Parts That Can Be Reused?

One man’s trash really can be another man’s treasure! If you need a specific part, then a salvage yard is a great place to look. Often these centers will have a slightly used version of the part you need.

Depending on where it came from these parts can be close to new. What’s more, they’ll come at a significant discount compared to buying them new. We recommend common usable parts like alternators, fuel pumps, engines, starters, and transmissions.

Call ahead to see if they have a usable version of the part you need that works for your vehicle. That way, you don’t waste a whole trip out there.

Looking to Sell Your Junk Car? Contact Cash Auto Salvage

We hope this article helped you learn the difference between salvage & scrap yards. Ideally, you also learned that your junk car can be a hidden treasure trove if you find the right buyer.

Unfortunately, finding a fair buyer isn’t always easy. Often dishonest shops will deliberately underestimate the value of the vehicle. By doing this they cheat you out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

So how do you go about finding a salvage yard you can trust? Look no further than Cash Auto Salvage. We’re a nationwide junk car buying company that can offer you competitive rates for your vehicle.

We also offer free pick up — no need to pay for towing. So, if you want cash in hand the same day you bring your car in, then contact us today.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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