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January 23, 2011

News & Features

As wrecking yards go online, locating used parts is more efficient

Special to NWautos


Nix Auto Wrecking manager Matt Murphy retrieves a part for a customer. All parts at Nix have a unique number and storage spot so employees can easily find what's been ordered. (Courtesy of Nix Auto Wrecking)


Nix Auto Wrecking employees like Clay Lunak can enter inventory directly into the company's computer network from its storage yard via WiFi. (Courtesy of Nix Auto Wrecking)

When Steve Day wanted to fix the rear-view mirror on his Audi A4, he had two options: buy the part new, or find it used for a fraction of the price.

After a quick search online, he located one at a wrecking yard in Everett and it was shipped to his house in Seattle a few days later. In the process, he saved almost $200.
"Over the past few years, I've easily saved hundreds of dollars in purchasing used and refurbished auto parts online," Day says.

Finding used parts was once an epic adventure for do-it-yourself mechanics like Day. Buyers had to sift through printed ads, visit swap meets or spend hours on the phone tracking down rare components.

But now, because many used-parts dealers in the Northwest list their wares online, searching can be done in seconds with the click of a mouse.

Don't call them junkyards
  • Established dealers don't sell "junk" -- they offer serviceable parts, often with a warranty. Some components are no longer manufactured, so used parts are the only way to keep older vehicles on the road.

Nix Auto Wrecking in Ballard is a typical example. The 72-year-old business put its inventory online in 1995. Before the Internet, manager Matt Murphy says, the shop had to print its inventory in a monthly catalog, and buyers had to call a hot line to order parts.

Now, Murphy says, the store quickly updates its website with new inventory. The shop gets thousands of hits every month from customers in the Puget Sound, Alaska and as far away as the East Coast.

"Usually, an Internet customer will locate the parts they need at the price they like and then call to verify [that it's in stock]," he says. "At that point, they can pay via credit card to reserve the part and stop by at their leisure, or we can ship it to them."

Used-parts dealers online
  • In addition to national broker, several local companies offer used auto parts online, including:
  • • AAA Auto Wrecking & Sales (Kent),
  • • All West Coast Auto Wrecking (Shelton),
  • • Binford Metals (Kent),
  • • King Auto Parts (Seattle),
  • • Nix Auto Wrecking (Ballard),
  • Suggestions for buying used parts online
  • • Know the part number: The easiest way to locate your part and to avoid mistakes is to search by the component's part number. You can find these via a call to your auto dealer.
  • • Inspect what you are buying: Some dealers may insist that you examine purchases firsthand, especially with body parts that are heavy to ship or time-consuming to dismantle.
  • • Individual parts vs. assemblies: Many recyclers would rather sell higher-priced assemblies (like an entire door) rather than individual parts (like an armrest). Be sure to ask whether you are paying for a specific part or the entire assembly.

Search efficiency isn't the only benefit of online systems for customers. The sites can also help determine the interchange of a part, Murphy says. "The interchange is important, because a part may fit across many different models of cars over a spread of years," he says.

In other words, an alternator from a 2002 Honda Civic might also work in a 2005 Civic.
Wrecking yards typically buy damaged vehicles from private parties, or insurance or towing auctions, and then salvage the useful parts and rate them based on mileage and condition.

To search for a given part, websites use simple drop-down menus or let users click generic images to search through catalogs. Day recommends also searching by part number to ensure accuracy.

Aside from local wrecking yards, another place to start a used-part search is at, a site that networks auto recyclers, body shops and repair facilities around the nation. After entering what you need, the site tells you who is selling the part, its price and the distance from your house.

"Online searches and used parts over the Internet are great for do-it-yourselfers, primarily because of the savings involved," Day says. "You can have the part delivered to you rather than having to travel to the yard."


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