The Official Car Talk Recycler Savings-Risk Matrix

Does it make sense for me to buy a (insert the part you need here) at a recycler?" Well, we might be able to help... with our Car Talk Savings-Risk Matrix.

Instructions: Click on the part name to get a description of savings and risk.





Junkyard Dog: Very High Savings, Very High Risk

Free to a good home — but you'd better believe us when we say he bites. Back to top

Don Corleone Mafia Suit in Trunk of Car: Very Low Savings, Very High Risk

You didn't see that. You didn't touch it, did you? Are your fingerprints on it? Back to top

Miscellaneous Personal Belongings: Very High Savings, Very Low Risk

Hands off. It's ours. Back to top

Engine: Very High Savings, High Risk

Recyclers sell a lot of engines. It's a huge amount of work to install an engine, and you might get one that will burn oil from the beginning, might fail in 10,000 miles, or, worst of all, might not work at all. Try to find a recycler who stores his engines inside. If they send the dogs out to get an engine under a mountain of parts...go somewhere else. But you could also save a boatload of money. Be sure to ask if the engine has been run, and if it's had a compression test. Remember to ask the mileage, too. Back to top

Computers: Very High Savings, Moderate Risk

Computers and many other electrical components cannot be returned once you're out the door. Because they can't be returned, you'll want to make sure the computer is at fault before you buy one from a recycler, otherwise you might be out a decent chunk of change. We've found that significant savings can be found on foreign-car computers. Back to top

Alternators, Starter Motors: Moderate to High Savings, Low Risk

These are easy to install, in the event you get a dud. And the savings can be significant. Back to top

Brake Pads, Brake Shoes: Very Low Savings, High Risk

How much can you save on brake shoes or pads? Five bucks? Besides, it's your safety. Most recyclers will not sell these parts, anyway, because it's simply not worth the hassle. Back to top

Brake Rotors, Brake Drums, Power-Brake Boosters: High Savings, Low Risk

These brake parts are virtually indestructible and easy to inspect. Dogs can urinate on these parts and they'll still be fine. Back to top

Master Cylinder, Calipers: Moderate Savings, High Risk

The master cylinder and calipers are hydraulic parts, which can suffer from sitting around, especially in situations where they do not get used...like a recycler's yard. We recommend purchasing these parts rebuilt. Back to top

Front End Components: High Savings, Low Risk

The front end includes components such as control arms, steering knuckles, drag links, steering boxes and antisway bars. Make sure you inspect these parts carefully, since they relate directly to your safety. Some big savings can be realized on front end components. Back to top

Rack and Pinion: Medium to High Savings, Medium to High Risk

The only definitive way of knowing if a rack and pinion is any good is to install it. Before purchasing, however, you can check to make sure it's not leaking. It's a heck of a lot of work to replace a rack and pinion, so you should realize that you are taking a major labor risk if the rack fails after your recycler's warranty has expired. Back to top

Body Parts: Very High Savings, Very Low Risk

Even a rank amateur can assess the condition of body parts; they're excellent items to get at a recycler. Back to top

Interior Parts: High Savings, Low Risk

It's easy to assess the condition of interior parts. Most recyclers will not sell seat belts, due to liability concerns.Back to top

Miscellaneous Engine Parts: High Savings, Very Low Risk

Miscellaneous engine parts includes such components as exhaust and intake manifolds, and cylinder heads. One advantage to buying a cylinder head at a recycler is that you can immediately have it tested, before installing it. Back to top

Clutches: Medium Savings, Moderate to High Risk

It can be difficult to tell how much life is left in a clutch... and it's a heck of a lot of work to replace one. Incidentally, most recyclers will not sell clutches, but there are probably some who will. We would not recommend buying a used clutch — unless you have a certified heap and all you're hoping for is another year or two out of it — before that clutch you just bought winds up back at the recycler... along with the rest of your car. Back to top

Radiator: High Savings, Moderate Risk

You can definitely save money buying a used radiator, but try to get it flow-tested before installing, and be sure to check the core for signs of rust. When possible, ask the recycler to test the radiator for leaks in your presence. A test is important, because there is no visual inspection you can perform that will guarantee a radiator or heater core is okay—it needs to be flow-tested under pressure. Back to top

Rear-Axle Assembly: High Savings, Low Risk

Rear-end is great to get at a recycler, because it usually lasts the lifetime of the vehicle and can be costly to buy new. Check to make sure it's got oil in it before you buy it! Back to top

Front-Wheel-Drive Axles: Medium Savings, Medium Risk

Unless the boot is torn open, it's almost impossible to assess whether the joint is any good. If it's really in bad shape, you can tell. But, it might still be in lousy condition and you won't know it until it's installed. By the way, there are some good axle rebuilders out there who will provide you with a rebuilt axle for a very reasonable price. Back to top

Rear Axles: High Savings, Low Risk

A rear axle should last the lifetime of a car. Remember to assess the bearing when installing. If it's no good, change it while you're installing the axle. Back to top

Gas Tanks: Moderate Savings, Very High Risk

All gas tanks should be crushed as soon as they arrive at recyclers, in our humble opinion. We've installed dozens of used gas tanks...many of which have started to leak within a few months. Buy a new one. Besides, it's gas. Do you want it leaking over a hot muffler? Back to top

Taillight, Brake Light Lenses, Reflectors, Turns Signals: Very High Savings, Very Low Risk

Is there a better part to get at a recycler? We don't think so. Taillight lenses for some foreign cars are well over $200! Anyone can evaluate their condition, and they're ridiculously expensive if bought new. Back to top

Window Glass: High Savings, Very Low Risk

Window glass is a great part to get at a recycler. Just make sure the windshield isn't too scratched. A lot of recyclers will install window glass for you while you wait. Back to top

Tires: Low to Medium Risk, High Savings

Tires are an excellent purchase in a salvage yard. Many yards will mount the tires for a small fee of five bucks or so, and will give you a guarantee against immediately obvious problems like bubbles or thumping. Back to top

Transmissions: High Savings, Moderate to High Risk

The amount of labor needed to install a transmission varies widely among cars. For example, a transmission is much more labor intensive to install in a front-wheel-drive car than in a rear-wheel-drive car. Installing a transmission in a V6 Camry is a huge undertaking, requiring pulling out both the engine and transmission, but in a rear-wheel-drive car or a pickup truck it's a piece of cake. So, you might save a bundle...but there's so much labor involved, you'll be cursing yourself if the one you purchased doesn't work. Be sure to check on the warrranty, and see if labor is covered, before purchasing a transmission at a recycler. Back to top

Wheels: High Savings, Low Risk

Wheels are great parts to get at a recycler, since they're easy to inspect and never wear out. Back to top

Belts and Hoses: Very Low Savings, Medium Risk

We'd recommend buying belts and hoses new, unless you're really interested in saving a few bucks. Back to top

Dog:

Free to good home. Warning: Has not had rabies shot. Back to top


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