If you decide to excavate the miles of piles at a local junkyard, what can you expect? Experiences can vary a great deal from one place to the next, but some things are pretty standard. A lot of smaller yards will have a small staff or single proprietor, but more often than not, they will know what they have -- or can send you off in the right direction to look for yourself. Larger salvage businesses usually have a lot more land and stock and they have computer systems to handle more detailed inventory tracking and reporting. Some become the go-to shops of professionals because they can give a yes or no answer quickly.
Finding a part at a good price might involve just a phone call or a Web search. Visiting a junkyard site, however, can include getting your hands dirty. Many salvage businesses require you pay a small entry fee of several dollars or more, and you should bring your own tools for removing parts from cars on-site if it is a "pull-a-part" do-it-yourself yard.
Know exactly what you're looking for, how much of the part needs to come off in order to replace or repair what you have, and how to remove it. Then make sure you have the right tools for the job; many yards will not provide any tools or labor. Others, however, won't even have a walk-in operation and will take your request, find what you're looking for, and get it for you over the counter or ship it right to you or your mechanic.
Savings on junkyard parts are almost always significant, but the time involved can be, too. Weighing the distance to get to the yard, how much time it will take to research what you need, and where to get it versus how much the job would cost with new parts is one way to measure whether it's worth your time.