The Ins and Out of Auto Salvage: A Beginner’s Guide

As one of the largest industries in the world, automobile manufacturing contributes significantly to the global economy, while also creating a lot of waste in the process. Automobile manufacturers are making great strides in creating cleaner, more environmentally-friendly vehicles, which helps to cut down on the waste generated before, after, and while cars are on the road. For wrecked, older, and end-of-life vehicles, the auto salvage industry plays an important role in keeping unnecessary materials out of landfills by properly disposing of and recycling materials from cars.

What exactly is auto salvage?

Car bumpers in a pile at scrapyard

Auto salvage is the practice of taking unwanted, used, wrecked or junk vehicles stripping them of all usable parts and components, which are then refurbished, sold, or recycled. This term applies to basically any vehicle that is being taken off the road, whether it is due to age, after an accident, or mechanical problems. Typically, the people who buy salvage vehicles work with cash for cars companies, salvage facilities, or junk yards.

At a salvage facility or junk yard, the salvage process begins with “pre-treatment” which is the time before the car is disassembled and is drained of coolant, oil, fuel, and other fluids. This prevents leakage while the car is being further disassembled. During this stage, the gas tank, tires, and battery are also removed. Fluids drained during pre-treatment can then be sold, recycled, or used in another vehicle. Depending on the condition and model of the gas tank, it can either be recycled as scrap metal, or sold as a refurbished part. Tires can be retreaded and sold, or used as fuel or ground rubber.

After these initial components are taken out of the vehicle, the remaining parts are evaluated, and the salvage yard or car owner must decide whether to repair, refurbish, and resell the parts. Everything from the engine parts to floor mats to window controls can be resold, as long as there is a demand for it. Otherwise, parts can be recycled the parts as scrap metal. Depending on the facility, many salvage yards will evaluate the parts and leave them intact inside of the vehicle, allowing customers to pull their own parts and do the manual labor. Other companies will pull the parts themselves, clean and refurbish the components, and then sell the parts online or in a retail location. Once all of the usable parts are stripped from the vehicle, and the interior fixtures (seats, carpets, console, and so on) are removed, the body and frame can be crushed and recycled as well.

Who does auto salvage work best for?

Car with a comic balloon and an ecologic icon

Generally, auto recycling is beneficial for anyone involved, no matter if you are donating your car to charity, selling it to a junkyard, or scrapping yourself. It helps reduce the impact vehicles have on the environment, can save people money when shopping for replacement parts, and plays a role in the multi-billion dollar global automobile industry. In addition, it lowers the amount of energy needed to create new goods and materials, most notable steel.

While salvaging a vehicle may be environmentally beneficial, it’s not always profitable for everyone. A variety of factors play into how much a person can make off of salvaging their car. These include:

  • Year, make, model
  • Condition of vehicle
  • If the vehicle runs or not
  • Demand for parts
  • Price of scrap

For example, say you own two cars and you’re looking to sell both of them: a 1990 Toyota Camry and a 2007 Toyota Camry. Both cars run (although the ’90 doesn’t run well) and have minimal damage to the bodies. The ’90 has close to 250,000 miles on it; the ’07 has less than 100,000. The ’07 has brand new tires on it. You can’t remember when you bought the tires for the ’90.

You call up your local junkyard or cash for cars company to get some quotes, and after asking a few questions about your car, you’re given a quote of $175 for the ’90 Camry and $225 for the ’07. You’re shocked by the appraisal. There is 17 year age difference between the cars, and yet, the yard values the vehicles at $50 apart. You know for a fact that you could fetch a few thousand, if not more, for the 2007 at a dealership or private sale.

So why are both cars valued so close together? The answer is simple: the ’90 is being valued as pure scrap, and is appraised almost solely for its weight. Even though the ’07 is in working order, has brand new tires, and has less than 100,000 miles on it, it too is being appraised for its weight, and the yard is almost completely disregarding its parts value in its appraisal to you. You may think the appraiser is being sneaky in their tactics, but in truth, they’re just giving you a sign that you’re better off selling the newer vehicle as a used car.

Okay, so how can I tell if I should salvage my car?

Cars in a junk yard

Basically, if you’re looking to get rid of an operable, perfectly functioning vehicle, calling a junkyard is probably not your best bet. If you own an ancient clunker, however, salvaging your car is probably the easiest way to make some extra cash off of your junk, while clearing up space in your garage or on your lawn. As a rule of thumb, if your car is more than 10 years old, costs more to fix than it’s worth, doesn’t run, or has been in an accident, it’s probably a good candidate to head to a salvage yard.

This article provided by Cash Auto Salvage.

15 Comments on "The Ins and Out of Auto Salvage: A Beginner’s Guide"

  1. Salvaging a used old car is a good idea because even if the car is in working state, it would still be costing more to run. So use your mind and the senses that you have been gifted and salvage your old car. Sometimes a change is all you need.

  2. A very interesting read regarding salvage vehicles, some useful information here. I also found some further great information to buying damaged repairable cars at AFF vehicle services. Their guide explains the different write off categories in the UK.

  3. I like the point you made about the age of your vehicle to help you decide if salvage is the right decision. I have a 1998 Buick Regal that has been breaking down pretty often. It has served me so well that I assumed I should keep putting money into it. I think I’ll finally move onto a new one. Thanks for sharing the information.

  4. Thanks for the advice about how to determine if it will be a good idea to salvage my car or not. I will have to look up the make, model, and year to find the value. If it is worth more as scrap parts, then I can take it to an auto recycler.

  5. Nash Rich

    I’m glad there is the salvage industry, because it would be a waste to see a lot of useful parts left unused. I never really thought all that had to be done to salvage a car. It makes sense that you would have to drain all of the fluids out of it first because that would make a huge mess.

  6. I had no idea that they drain coolant, oil, fuel, and other fluids before they take it apart. I have only been to a salvage yard a few times, and they look like a very interesting place. I support reusing cars for their parts though. Thanks.

  7. This auto salvage guide was pretty enlightening especially the part about knowing when to salvage your car. It’s sometimes hard to know when it’s time to junk or repair a car. This guideline gave me a good idea of when to think of salvaging your vehicle.

  8. I wish that more people salvaged newer cars. it would make it easier for me to find parts for my 09 Nissan. However, you are right, if the car still runs well and is newer then it is almost always going to be better to sell it to a dealership.

  9. You mentioned that salvaging a car typically be beneficial for cars that are older, but if a car still works well you can usually make more money from selling it as a used vehicle. My brother has had bad luck with cars this year and has 3 or 4 that are no longer worth having. I believe one of them is still running, so I will let him know to see if he can get more from selling it instead of salvaging it.

  10. I appreciate the information on auto wreckers. I agree that one of the best parts about auto wreckers is that they can help properly dispose of these old cars, it can really help the environment and make a little money at the same time. My brother has an old car he is looking to get rid of, I will be sure to share this information with him on auto wrecking yards.

  11. Thank you for talking about some of the criteria involved in salvaging cars. I can see how cars that are older are potentially less likely to bring you much wealth as opposed to newer models. I would want to make sure I call several locations to find out which can give me the best deal for the car I no longer need.

  12. Tiffany Locke

    Taking unwanted, used, wrecked, or junk vehicles and stripping them of all usable parts and components seems like a great way to recycle old vehicles. I would imagine that if you own a wrecked or junk vehicle you could probably find somewhere to sell it in order to make some money. Being able to both recycle an old car and make some money would be very useful.

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