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Salvage cars found in a junkyard can be a goldmine for finding cheap parts.

For some jobs it is worth paying a premium for new, genuine OEM parts for your car ... and other times you can do with second hand options. I know a lot of you guys have "project cars" or off-road trucks that are cobbled together piece by piece and spend as much time in the shop as they do on the road. Most of us that have learned how to hunt through a salvage yard were lucky to find a friend to show them. Here's how you can get started picking through the junkyard for the right piece ... or one that is close enough.

Many of us would get overjoyed by the prospects of a show that featured finding the right parts at salvage yards across America. Have you ever driven down the road and saw a junkyard to one side or the other, stopped, and went in with no particular purpose and just looked around? How many of you could make a day of it, browsing aisle after aisle of old cars, wondering what their story was? Tear-A-Part is a self-service auto recycling company that will satisfy any auto enthusiast's desire to search for that elusive part. Need a one-time part, they will have it. Need certain parts on a more regular basis, this is your spot.

In a recent Forbes article, Jon Markman described what has become a lucrative business, wholesaling used parts. What once consisted of only local junkyards or new parts has morphed into a billion dollar, global industry of used parts sales.

Interchangeable Parts

Those trips to a junkyard can provide hours of enjoyment, but what about when you need a specific item and you don't have much time to look around? How many of you remember the movie, My Cousin Vinnie? Joe Pesci's character Vinnie Gambini asks Marisa Tomei's character Mona Lisa Vito about the skid marks left at a crime scene. She responds, "The car that made these two, equal-length tire marks had positraction. You can't make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the '64 Buick Skylark!"

Besides it being a terrific movie, the purpose of bringing it up is some parts are interchangeable as we discovered later in the movie. The car that made the skid marks could be a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, which was also made by GM. When salvaging parts to restore a vehicle, you do not have to be exact. You can use some parts from similar makes and models.

However, to save time, you should get that information before you trudge through the salvage yard if you don't already know. How many of us have that level of knowledge? These days, you can likely do a Google or Bing search or sites like Chilton DIY have tons of auto repair manuals online.

While the body might look different, inside the shell you will find that many cars share a lot of parts. For instance the Land Rover, parts for the massive 5.3L V-8 with 340 hp and 6-speed transmission might be challenging to find on other vehicles, but it has had many makes and models down through the years, and most of the parts are interchangeable. The Defender 90, 110, and 127 parts will often fit many other models. The number designation applies to the length of the wheelbase.

Land Rover also had the Discover, the Range Rover, Freelander, etc. There are actually 14 models if you include the models developed for the Ministry of Defense and armored car models. However, in the US, new parts can be costly and used parts can be hard to find if you merely look for the specific make, model, and year.

Knowing Where to Look in the Yard

The trick to finding the right part in a yard full of salvaged vehicles is now right at your fingertips. For example, on the Tear-A-Part website for Utah, you can search for a part by make and model. Choose Inventory on the navigation bar, and it will display which location it is in, the row, and stock number.

Therefore, if you need a part that is generic to any Land Rover, you could click on Land Rover and leave the (any) designation, and just click enter. If, however, the part you want can only be taken from the Discovery II model, choose that instead. Isn't technology amazing?

Having the Right Tools

When you go to the salvage yard, you should take a small tool bag. Sure, it's nice to have a big, multilayer toolbox in your garage, but you are certainly not going to carry that to the salvage yard. When foraging a junkyard, a handy tool kit is much better, and it won't tire you out lugging it around.

You can add specific tools you know you will need to salvage the part, but all you will normally need is:

  • A 9/16 and 1/2 inch wrench
  • a ratchet with 8 and 10 mm sockets
  • a combination straight and Phillips head screwdriver if one is not part of your ratchet set
  • an Allen wrench set
  • a can of WD-40, and
  • a small ball-peen hammer.

A ball-peen hammer is what some call a machinist's hammer; it is great for loosening up nuts and bolts after you spray it a couple of times with WD-40.

Getting What You Need When You Need It Fast

Nowadays, when you want to restore a vehicle, you can find the part you need simply by knowing the compatible make, model, and year you can pick the part from to add to your project without searching through an entire yard of salvage vehicles. Save that mission for another day when you have plenty of time to look around.