Difference Between Auto Salvage Yards and Junkyards

quick, easy, painless way to sell a junk car

Auto salvage yards. Scrap yards. Auto recycling centers. Junkyards.

You might think that all of the aforementioned venues are the same thing, but they're not. In fact, there are very significant differences between salvage yards and junkyards. In this post, we'll set the record straight and deliver the important details and information that you need to know when it comes to distinguishing auto salvage yards from junkyards. Here's a closer look: 

What's a Junkyard?

Let's start by focusing on junkyards, a place where junk is typically collected and stored. When we say "junk" we're talking about anything: old cars, lamps, furniture, toys, electronics, tools, etc. "Junk" can typically be defined as anything that's unwanted or something of little meaning, worth or significance. In some cases, junkyards may open their doors to the public and some items may be resold (one person's trash is another person's treasure, after all). But in most cases junkyards are nothing more than places that collect unwanted items. Some junkyards will also attempt to recycle or sell scrap for profit. 

Most people think that salvage yards and junkyards are one and the same, but they have a few key differences.

The Junkyard Stereotype

Junkyards also have some fairly notable stereotypes often attached to them, as they're usually depicted in fiction as the setting of criminal activity and mischievous behavior, in addition to the reputation they have as being dirty, unsanitary places. Many people think of guard dogs and barbed wire fences when the word "junkyard" comes into the conversation. Think about how many scenes from crime drama movies and TV shows have taken place in junkyards

But the origins of these junkyard stereotypes actually began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many immigrants found work in the scrap business. As you may guess, some of the stereotypes are the result of bigotry from where early immigrants made a living. No matter how right or wrong the stereotypes are, they're persistent with junkyards

What’s an Auto Salvage Yard?

Unlike junkyards, auto salvage yards (which are also often referred to as auto recycling centers, or auto scrap centers) essentially take unwanted or damaged vehicles, strip them of any viable car parts and scrap metal, and then either refurbish or sell said parts to other consumers. 

It's an ideal way to help the automotive industry become more of a circular economy, as instead of trashing or junking a car even when it has plenty of viable parts, salvage yards can help retrieve viable used auto parts and offer them to like-new fashion for other drivers. For the end consumer, this can be a huge cost-saver, as it's often much more affordable to purchase a used, refurbished part or component than to acquire one brand new. 

Some auto salvage yards even operate in a self-service, pick-and-pull fashion, meaning for a small entry fee, consumers are permitted to enter the yard, find an applicable vehicle and retrieve the parts they need themselves from the vehicle (though there's a cost to the parts that are pulled in addition to the entry fee). 

"We do not sell worthless, meaningless or contemptible trash as denoted in the definition of 'junk,' but are a vital resource for cost effective replacement parts for our customers. Today’s modern auto recyclers will strive to always be a relevant option in the vehicle repair process and will progress with the needs of our customers and as the vehicles themselves evolve," says Sandy Blalock, executive director of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA).

Blalock is also quick to point out how far automotive recycling and the ARA has come over the past 75 years or so when it comes to advancing the quality of auto salvage yards and moving them away from the "junkyard" lingo such venues were once grouped into. In other words, whether it's fair or not, auto salvage yards are making moves to get away from being described as scammy and unsanitary places where criminal behavior often takes place.

"However, there are still many people who do not understand how much we have advanced and even today we fight to distance ourselves from that 'junkyard' persona," she continues. "When I first began my full-time work in the industry managing our family business, the first thing I told my husband was that I was not going to work in a junkyard so things had to change. And oh how they did and have continued to this day. I've been fortunate to be a huge part of this industry from many sides, operating an automotive recycling facility, advocating for our industry on many fronts and now with my position as executive director of ARA. This is an industry worth fighting for and I along with many forward-thinking people in our industry will work to assure the future of auto recycling." 

Auto recycling: it's not "junk." 

The Bottom Line

Like we've noted in the above sections, junkyards and auto salvage yards are not the same thing, and if you were to call an auto salvage yard owner's lot a junkyard, they'd likely take offense to it. Again, junkyards are places where items of little value are collected and then potentially resold for scrap. And auto salvage yards are venues where old cars are collected, usable parts are restored, and then said parts and components are resold at a fraction of the price of a new one. 

Salvage yards typically only deal with cars, while junkyards collect all kinds of items. It's an important difference to know for a few reasons. One, now you know where to go when you're looking for refurbished auto parts versus discarded miscellaneous items. And two, it's an important difference to know as far as the recycling industry is concerned in terms of the advances that each type of lot has taken to encourage a more circular economy. 

So what's the difference between junkyards and auto salvage yards? Here's a quick review:


  • Are places where junk is collected and stored. 
  • Store items that are either unwanted or have little value. 
  • Contain some parts that may be sold for scrap or re-purposed for sale. 
  • Typically have a negative stigma attached to them. 

Auto salvage yards: 

  • Collect unwanted vehicles and resell applicable parts. 
  • Work as part of the circular economy pertaining to automotive reuse and recycling. 
  • Provide value to consumers in like-new parts for a fraction of the price of brand new. 
  • Aren't junkyards!