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When to salvage, when to buy new

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By Don Elfrink
Special to Old Cars Weekly

If you consider yourself handy with car repair, then you’ve probably taken a stab at replacing parts and updating various functions in your vehicle. As you know, replacing broken or rusty car parts can prove to be very expensive. In order to cut down on costs, many “car guys” head to the junk yard to salvage anything from rotors to tires. In many instances, this is a great way of getting what you need at a reasonable price. However, there are definitely some rules of thumb that you should know before venturing into a junk yard.

Body Panels, Pieces and Wheels

One of the most salvageable items you can get from a junk yard without any potentially harmful repercussions is a selection of body panels. For instance, if you were in a minor fender bender and need to repair your vehicle, you will likely be able to find several potential replacements at a junk yard. However, keep in mind that you’ll still have to sand, prime, paint and install them.

You can also safely salvage wheels (rims) from a junk yard, though you should pay close attention to each wheel you select. Look for obvious signs of damage along the outer lip of both sides, as a warped wheel won’t make for a very comfortable ride, and will also cause your tires to wear prematurely.

Safety Equipment

The most important items to avoid getting from a junk yard are those that bear directly on the safety of you and your passengers. For instance, avoid salvaging these types of components:

  • Brake calipers
  • Rotors
  • Master cylinders
  • Seat belts
  • Air bags
  • Seats (in most cases)
  • Axles

In short, anything that could conceivably have a negative effect on your safety while on the road should be purchased either new or refurbished. There’s really no way to tell that they’re in perfect condition.

Possible Items

There are also items that you can “possibly” get from a junk yard, but the likelihood of finding these pieces in good condition is not particularly high. For example, shocks and struts can be salvaged from a junk yard, but you have no way of knowing how close to failure they may be. Failure won’t impinge your safety, but it can make for a very uncomfortable ride.

This rule can also be applied to things like engines and transmissions. You can certainly salvage both components from junked cars and trucks. However, there’s no way to tell how well maintained those pieces were when the original vehicle was operating, or how long they’ve been sitting and rusting at the junk yard. Generally speaking, buying a refurbished/remanufactured engine or transmission is a better choice than salvaging them from a junk yard.

Other items it might be possible to salvage are engine components like valve covers and oil pans. These can generally be found in satisfactory condition and usually need little more than a good cleaning and the purchase of a new gasket to be used.

Rules of Thumb

First, understand that buying new or remanufactured is always a safer bet than going the salvage route, though it will certainly be more expensive. If you find that you have no other option than to find the parts you need at a junk yard, remember the list above. In addition, make sure you fully inspect any part, component or piece you do get from a junked car to make sure that it is in respectable condition.

About the Author
Don Elfrink is the owner and operator of AutoMatStore, an auto flooring company based out of Columbia, Mo. Before AutoMatStore, Elfrink was the operator of a automotive production site. AutoMatStore focuses on all-weather, logo, carpeted and molded car mats.

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