Who Buys Junk Cars: 10 Expert Tips for Picking Car Salvage Services

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

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Nobody got hurt in the crash – except your car, which has been deemed a total loss by your insurance company. And now you’re trying to figure out who buys junk cars, reminding yourself no one but the car got hurt.

Okay, maybe your dignity, but your insurance doesn’t have a say in that.

The pros and cons are out on buying a salvage car, but if both you and your insurance are looking to dump the car, junking it is a good way to get value out of your car.

Of course, getting a quote on your salvage car is an art in itself. Keep reading for 10 tips on how to get the most from your sale.

1. Know Why You’re Selling

As in, know what’s wrong with your car and what it’s going to cost to get it off your hands.

For example, preparation requirements. If your car isn’t driveable, the salvage service will either move it for you or ask you to tow it there yourself. (Pro tip: a service trying to upsell you by making you pay for towing is conning you.)

You should also know, based on the damage that led insurance to forsake your car, which parts are damaged. This will also affect your quote.

2. Selling Online vs. In Person

Fun fact: in the 21st century, that person who buys junk cars need not be in person. It’s a beautiful world we live in.

Here’s the thing: buying in person can help you ascertain personally whether the person is honest with you, but the price can vary widely between yards. It’s also possible you’ll have to swallow the cost of transporting the car.

Online buyers aren’t automatically shady; they just work differently. Usually, someone who buys junk cars from you over the phone or online is buying nationally. In this case, they’ll buy and then arrange for a local affiliate to pick it up.

Whatever else you do, do your homework to make sure someone buying online is legit, especially if they’re picking up the car from your home.

With online buyers, you should also make sure you’ve got all the appropriate paperwork set up yourself.

Side note: don’t forget our old pals/mortal enemies at the DMV. Yes, they’re annoying even when your car is dying.

The DMV has guidelines for salvage title vehicles. To make your life easier, those guidelines vary by state (emphasis on sarcasm.)

Make sure you know what the guidelines are before you Frankenstein your car. It makes the DMV a lot less insufferable.

3. Know Your Junker’s Value

A lot of factors will influence what you receive for your junker.

The biggest one? Knowing what your junker is worth before you walk in the door.

Remember that feeling when you bought your car? When you walked into the dealership and were had the sudden feeling you were getting played for a chump?

Know what your car is worth. At least a ballpark. And keep in mind that a lot of seemingly irrelevant factors can change the value – like where you live.

Or, the make and model of your car.

Year, Make, and Model Aren’t Just Numbers

Age is more than just a number. Especially when picking a salvage service.

Let’s get real. Someone who buys junk cars is paying attention to the year, make and model. There are a few reasons for this.

Some cars don’t have a significant change from year to year. That means their parts will be more widely available on the market, even if there isn’t a lot of that model on the market.

Kiddies, supply, and demand is an inverse relationship. If your car has a lot of parts that are widely available on the market, your junk value just won’t be as high. Even a different model year with the same parts might have a higher value.

Now, let’s be crystal clear: we’re not saying there’s no value in junking a mass-produced car. We’re saying you need to shop around to get the best price.

Yard A might turn up their nose. Yard B might snap it up before you can say the title number. Know your options.

4. Contact Area Salvage Service Yards

While we’re on the subject of knowing your options: shop around. Like a lot.

A lot of things will affect what quote you’ll get from someone who buys junk cars. That’s why it’s worth your while to ask around.

Say you have a car you’d like to sell, give all the particulars, and see what they have to say for themselves.

You should have a general sense of what your car is worth going in. Asking around will serve two purposes: proving which salvage yards aren’t shady and showing what price you’re likely to get for your car.

It’s also possible that one junkyard may see more value in a car than another. All to your benefit. You never know if you never ask.

5. Know Your Way Around Salvage Scams

As a general rule, if you feel like you’re being conned, that’s because you probably are.

To be fair, not every person who buys junk cars is scamming you, just most of them (kidding). Most junkyards and salvage services are legitimate businesses.

There’s no way of knowing how many junkyards use questionable tactics, but by one recent estimate, there are over 1 million used cars in the U.S. that have been title washed.

Here are a few red flags to watch out for.

Vague Units

Quick question: how many pounds in a ton?

If your answer was “I’m not good at math,” then congratulations. You’re about to be scammed.

Someone who buys junk cars knows that junk cars are often valued based on tonnage. But there are two kinds of tons: net tons (equal to 2,000 pounds) and long/metric tons (equal to 2,240 pounds).

Ask your dealer what tons they’re using. If they don’t answer, or say it doesn’t matter, they’re lying liars who lie. Also, if it looks like they’re quoting you on long tons when they told you otherwise, call them on it, leave and tell people to never go there.

Generally, if it looks like you’re being conned, that’s because you are. It’s way less fun when there’s no Matt Bomer for your troubles.

Towing Problems

Remember earlier when we said someone who’s charging you to tow could well be conning you?

Here’s the thing: towing a car is not rocket science.

Ask your dealer if towing is included in your cost. If they won’t answer or if they answer vaguely, you’re in for a surprise when they come to tow your car.

Not the fun kind that has confetti either.

Some real winners will even charge you twice. Once when you get the quote and again when they actually tow it. Rude.

Ask. If you don’t ask, don’t look for sympathy.

False Incentives

Repeat after me: non-cash incentives are a bigger con than Ponzi.

If a dealer is giving you a low offer and trying to sweeten it with coupons, they’re not being generous. The coupons are bigger junk than the car you’re trying to ditch.

Often, they’ll be highly restrictive and of limited value. No matter what they’re trying to throw at you, if it’s not a good offer, it’s not worth it.

6. Easy vs Profitable in Selling to a Junkyard

Easy and good idea are not synonyms. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Usually, when you call a cash-for-cars company, they’ll quote you for the scrap metal and exclude the parts. That’s why, if you have the time, it could be worth it to sell the parts on your own beforehand.

On the other hand, if you just want to get rid of your car quickly, finding someone who buys junk cars could be of benefit to you. Usually, they’ll tow it, pay you on the spot and deal with the paperwork themselves.

In other words, it’s a clean breakup. For a lower value. Make of that what you will (and for the sake of you and your loved ones, don’t apply this to relationship advice.)

7. Junk Value vs Used Value

Notice how these are two different phrases. That means they’re not the same thing.


Junk value is like scrap value. Scrap value is the value of an asset’s components when the asset itself is deemed no longer useful.

Unsurprisingly, junk value is the value of the components of your car (like the parts and the metal) when the car itself is deemed too useless for this world.

Bear in mind that junk value and used value are relative. You might think that your car has value because it runs fine, but someone who buys junk cars might see a late model vehicle with low mileage and a clean title.

Real talk: salvage services are not used car dealerships.

This means they’re more interested in the value they can get out of end-of-life vehicles that are worth more in parts than as a complete car.

8. The Value is the Weight – Not Accessories

We mentioned earlier that when you get a quote from a salvage service (like this one here!) you’re not getting quoted on the price of the car as a whole.

Remember: someone who buys junk cars is not a used car dealership. They don’t care about the bells and whistles.

Translation: they couldn’t care less that your car has a fancy stereo system. They will not pay you more for your car because of the said stereo system.

They’re not buying it for the stereo. They’re buying it for the scrap.

Make no mistake: there is a market for parts. It’s just that someone who buys junk cars isn’t in that market. This brings us to #9.

9. Sell the Parts

Take a long hike back in time to tips #6 and #8.

Salvage yards, or an individual who buys junk cars, don’t quote you on the value of the parts. They quote you on the value of the scrap.

If you have the time and patience to sell the parts yourself, you can make a decent chunk of change doing it.

Fair warning: it’s a ton of work (net and metric). You’ll essentially have to remove everything from the interior of the car that isn’t metal. You’ll also have to drain fluids, remove wires, and ascertain which parts are worth selling.

And unless you’ve got a buyer lined up, you’ll also have to store the parts appropriately until you can find one.

Add this to the time required to figure out the value of these parts if you don’t already know your stuff, and the time required to sell the parts to a non-shady buyer (they exist, you just have to be aware of yourself).

10. Compare Offers

This isn’t a high school history test. Compare notes. Compare notes generously. Be obnoxious.

Okay, don’t be obnoxious. You should be thorough though.

This goes back to visiting several junkyards. Get quotes to figure out what you’re getting out of each respective deal.

Pro tip: get a guaranteed offer. This means the price can’t change once a local affiliate comes to pick up the car. Why get robbed at the very end of the game?

Towing should also factor into your offer quality considerations. As we’ve already repeated, someone who buys junk cars and is also reputable will usually tow for free. Asking about it during the offer is a way to make sure.

Find Out Who Buys Junk Cars

Still with us? Great. Let’s find you someone who buys junk cars.

Hint: we do. Look at that.

We like to think of ourselves as your one-stop shop for all things auto salvage. Because everyone likes it when things are easier.

We cover a lot of important questions about auto salvage on our blog, especially for newbies. Check out our guide to everything you need to know about auto salvage to get started, or where you can sell your car.

Still have questions? Good thing we’ve still got answers. Check out our FAQ page for a few common ones.

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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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