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Tools for the Self-Serve Junkyard

What we bring to the DIY junkyards.

Junkyards are a valuable resource to anyone who plays with off-road rigs and wants to do so as inexpensively as possible. Knowing how to find the parts you need, telling if they are worth buying, and how to get them may not be totally obvious to those not versed in the "laws of the land." Many junkyards or auto parts recyclers employ folks to remove parts for their customers while others are self-service, DIY, or pull-it-yourself. The latter style of junkyard usually offers cheaper prices because they don't have to pay someone to pull the parts or deal with inventory of good or junk parts. At these DIY yards, you enter the yard and look for what you need on a car or truck. Usually you can assume that these yards have common vehicles, or the person at the entrance can check their vehicle inventory. Once you've found the vehicle, the part may be good, damaged, or already removed by some other customer. Bringing the tools needed to pull the parts is also something that may seem obvious, but experience helps. Here are some of the parts we bring when we go junkyarding at the local DIY yard.


We usually grab the two bags that make up the base of our trail tools, the tools we take on any off-road trip. In these bags all the common tools are already there. We have box end wrenches, screwdrivers (of both types, country and western), cross-cutting pliers, adjustable pliers, a small set of sockets, ratchets, extensions, needle-nose pliers, snap-ring pliers, picks, drifts, chisels, a hammer (you need a hammer), and more. You will want to remove any valuable spare parts you may carry in these tool bags before you go to the yard since if you walk into a yard with a locking hub or U-joint they won't know that you didn't get it while in the yard and will most likely charge you for the part if there is any doubt of its origin.

Must-Have Junkyard Tools

Junkyards are dirty places, so be prepared. Don't wear your Sunday best clothes, don't wear your new shoes or boots; wear shop clothes you don't mind destroying and boots you don't mind ruining. We also almost always bring a tarp, plenty of clean rags, and some sort of hand cleaner to the junkyard. Sometimes we also bring heavy work, or disposable gloves depending on what we are pulling from the yard. The tarp is so you can protect yourself and clothes from the oil, dirt, grease, and grime underneath any vehicle you may have to get under. The rags are to clean new-to-you parts and get most of the grease and oils off your hands (if you don't bring or use gloves), and they make a great place to collect all the little bits of hardware you are getting with your parts. Hand cleaning wipes are an awesome tool to have so you can clean yourself up before getting back into your car and driving home. Also always bring plenty of water and a sport drink to rehydrate after working hard in the heat and sun.

Power Tools for the Junkyard

The relatively recent availability of battery-powered tools is a game changer for our time at the junkyard. We often bring our 3/8- or 1/2-inch drive electric impact guns to the junkyard. They are great for any stubborn nuts or bolts. Another battery-operated tool that we like to have at the junkyard is a Sawzall or grinder with a cutoff wheel. These are invaluable when a bolt won't move, or for cutting through exhausts, cutting U-bolts, or clearing other components in the way of the part you are pulling.

What the Junkyard Offers

Most DIY junkyards have a few items on hand to help you pull your parts. Generally, there will be a dozen or so carts that you can use to gather your larger parts. If you are pulling something large like an engine there are probably a few A-frame cranes that can be rolled around the yard. If not, ask if they have a forklift or a loader to help move large items in the yard. Also, most of the cranes or even a loader/forklift won't have a short chain to use to form a lifting point. A length of seatbelt from one of the vehicles with a few well-tied knots can be used as a sling to lift even very heavy items like an engine. Sometimes you can also use a vehicle's factory-supplied jack to help you pull items. Be resourceful.