Being frugal is a mindset that says that not everything has to be brand new. Often we can purchase things used, or we can make them ourselves, for a fraction of the cost of buying the item from the store. Saving money by avoiding retail is one of the frugal person’s best strategies.
The same thing is true of cars. I’ve already shared on this blog our philosophy of buying old cars. It’s a pretty obvious fact that a person can save a lot of money by searching for a good used car from a private owner, rather than purchasing a new one off the lot.
You might be surprised to find that buying used is also a great option when you need to fix your car. If your car needs a replacement part, it’s not always necessary to get a brand new one from the automotive store. Many times you can find the part you need at a junkyard. Auto care does not have to be expensive.
“Now wait a minute,” you say. “I take my car to the shop, and the mechanic there fixes my car. I don’t have the option to buy my parts from a junkyard,” you exclaim. Actually, you do. If your mechanic has your best interests at heart, he will be fine with looking for used parts for your car. He’s got his sources; trust me. Try asking him the next time; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
But this article is more for the do-it-yourselfer in all of us. There are plenty of fixes on a car that don’t require a trip to the shop. Especially when you know how to troll the local salvage yard for the parts that you need. I’m thinking of things like interior or exterior trim pieces that fall off, that side mirror that you swiped against the mailbox and hasn’t ever been the same since, the bezel for the overhead light that got cracked — or, for the more adventurous, things like battery mounts and wiper fluid reservoirs and radio antennas.
Saving Money on Auto Care by Going to a Junkyard
Junkyards are cool places, y’all!! My husband and I go to the one near us regularly. It’s a fun and cheap date! :-) If you’ve never been to one, here are some good tips to keep in mind:
Always call first before going to a junk yard that you’ve never been to before. You’ll be able to tell over the phone if the people that work there are helpful or not. You’ll also be able to find out if they charge an entrance fee. Some junkyards charge a nominal fee just for you to step foot on the lot. That way, if you don’t find a part to meet your needs, they are still making money off of you. We personally try to avoid those. There are plenty around that will let you walk right in.
When you get inside the entry building, there will most likely be a counter. You will want to stop here and say hi to the guys. First, because you will need to sign in as a way of releasing the junkyard from liability. Second, because these guys can steer you in the right direction for where to go after you walk through the building and out into the sea of cars.
Many junkyards have a computer database that has a record of every car on the lot. If you tell the dude at the counter what part you’re looking for, he can give you a printed list of all the vehicles that could potentially have that part. This includes not just vehicles that match your specific car, but all of those made by the same manufacturer that also include the part you’re seeking. (For instance, when we go looking for parts for our Suburban, we often get a list that includes Tahoes and pickups, as well.) This is super helpful! It’s like following a treasure map. :-)
The best junkyards are BIG. Then you have the most chance of finding what you need. They are filled with cars of all varying stages of demolition. Some cars are just old but are still fairly intact. Other cars are newer but have been in an accident that makes them undriveable. And there is everything in between. If you’re looking for multiple parts, the junkyard may have a wheelbarrow you can take around with you as you harvest parts.
It’s fun to seek out the cars that might have your part and inspect them to see if they in fact have what you need — and that the part is in working order, lol. Once you find a good candidate, you then have to remove it from the car. This can be fun and/or challenging. Be sure to bring some tools along. Some junkyards have a few tools for customers to borrow, but for the most part you’re on your own. (Hint: take the needed part out of your own car before going to the junkyard. That way you’ll know what tools you need; and if it’s not too big, you can bring the part with you for comparison purposes, to verify that the one you remove from the junk car is identical to the one from your own car.)
Then it’s time to take your parts back to the dude at the counter. He will most likely mark them, to prove they came from that junkyard in the event you need to return something (yes, a good junkyard will take returns!) and then give you a grand total that is WAY less than if you bought them at the automotive store or the dealership.
Here are some examples from our recent junkyard excursions:
– the A/C wasn’t working on our Cadillac when we bought it; the previous owner said the shop had told him it needed a new fan to the tune of $180. We went to the junkyard and got the fan controller for $12.38. Problem solved.
– The console lid for our most recent used car purchase would not stay closed because the latch pin had been broken off. Found one at the junkyard for $10. Now I can rest my arm on the console without having to muscle it down first.
–Our latest haul, about a week ago, involved some knob replacements for our Suburban, a huge amount of interior parts for the pickup, including a headliner and dashboard (working towards changing from a red interior to a gray one), and a funny little stopper that should have been on a drain tube on the Riviera but had somehow gone missing. For these parts we paid a grand total of $97.
Auto care is not a situation in which you should have to feel forced to pay out the big bucks. With a little DIY moxie and a trip to the junkyard, you can fix your car for far less than taking it to the shop! If you do use a mechanic, saving money is still possible by requesting used parts whenever appropriate. I’d rather use my hard-earned cash for a trip to my favorite restaurant — wouldn’t you?? :-)