SCRAP CAR VALUE: ARE YOU GETTING THE RIGHT PRICE FOR YOUR JUNK CAR

If you’ve received one or more quotes from junkyards for your unwanted car, you might wonder if you’re getting the highest price possible. Selling an unwanted car to a junkyard doesn’t happen very often to the average consumer, so they have very little experience to rely on when determining the value of their junk car. Unlike the new or used car markets, there are no published prices for junk cars by make, model, year, or condition to go by, or nothing that says a junk cars in Lancaster sell for this and junk cars in Philly sell for that. So here’s a simple list of things to consider if you’re wondering if you’re being offered a fair price for your junk car:

WAITING ONLY MAKES YOUR JUNK CAR LESS VALUABLE

Many people hesitate before getting rid of their non-running cars. They may think that they’d like to repair or restore the car when they have more time or money, or might be able to find a buyer that wants the car. They might have ideas about stripping the car to get the maximum scrap value. It may even be a car that’s in bad shape but still runs, and is held as a replacement in case the household’s primary vehicle dies.

No matter the reason you’re storing an unused car on your property, it’s important to understand that the longer you wait to send your car to the junkyard, the less it’s going to be worth. That’s because many parts on a car that isn’t running deteriorate quickly, and the parts that deteriorate the fastest are usually the most valuable parts on the car to a junkyard.

When a car isn’t driven regularly, many of the supposed-to-be-moving parts break down. Rust will appear and spread ever faster. Anything made of rubber like window gaskets, hoses, belts, and tires will become brittle. All the fluids in the car will begin to settle out. Any gasoline left in the tank will absorb water from the air, and if the car is left out in the weather, the seats will fade and crack. Animals and other pests will even infest the car, and rodents will begin to chew the electronics, exposing the wires. Corrosion can degrade valuable parts like the starter motor and alternator until they’re only good for scrap.

Junkyards will often only offer you the scrap value of your car by weight if the car is inoperable and left outside. If you’re thinking of selling your unused car for junk, do it right away and tell the junkyard that the car was on the road until recently to get a better price. 

MAKE SURE YOU GET MORE IF YOUR CAR IS DRIVABLE

To a junkyard, a car in running condition is always worth more than one that isn’t. First off, a car that runs won’t require towing in order to bring it to the junkyard. Junkyards tow cars all the time, but any savings of time and trouble is worth some money to them.

Junkyards also make higher offers on running cars they can sell at auction. Not all cars bought by junkyards are actually destined for the scrap heap. A car that’s still in running condition is much more likely to be attractive to an auction buyer who is looking for cars that can be refurbished and resold. But unless your car is in exceptionally good shape, the junkyard will probably sell it at auction as part of a group of cars. That spreads the risk for the auction buyer and seller, and that’s why you shouldn’t assume that just because your car is suitable for auction you could make a lot of money on it. You should, however, be able to get more than the scrap minimum from the junkyard.

USE THE BLUE BOOK VALUE AS YOUR STARTING POINT

It’s easy and free to look up the resale value of your car if it was still running. But if you’re thinking of junking your car, don’t assume the junkyard will pay anywhere near this price for you vehicle. The Blue Book value of a car assumes that it’s in good condition. If it were in the condition necessary to qualify for its maximum Blue Book condition, you wouldn’t be sending it to the junkyard.

Even so, you can still use the Blue Book value as a rule of thumb to estimate whether the offer you’re receiving from the junkyard is high enough. If you take your car’s potential Blue Book value, then subtract the cost of any repairs necessary to get it in sellable shape, you’ll have a rough guide to estimating what the car might be worth if it’s sold at auction or repaired and flipped by the junkyard.

SALVAGE PRICES ARE HIGHER THAN SCRAP PRICES

Remember: the scrap metal price for a car does not take into account the valuable components still on the car. If your car has re-usable parts like an alternator, a starter motor, an expensive onboard GPS system, new tires, or anything else that is easily removed and resold, you should be able to get better than scrap steel prices for it. Keep in mind that all salvage operations involve labor for the scrapyard, and the risk and expense that comes with keeping inventory on hand, so don’t expect junkyards to give you the full value of parts they sell. But you may be able to negotiate for up to half the value of the easily re-sold components.

USE THE WEIGHT OF YOUR CAR AS A LAST RESORT

When all else fails, you can use your vehicle’s curb weight as a guestimate for its value as scrap metal. The majority of the weight in your car is composed of steel. It’s fairly easy to determine the value of scrap steel at local recycling yards. Prices of around $150 per ton are common, so your average car is usually worth around $300 to a scrapyard. If you’re being offered scrap prices for a car that has potential for salvaged parts or even an auction sale, you should negotiate further with the junkyard, or look for additional quotes.

NEVER ACCEPT A PRICE WITH CONDITIONS

It’s smart to get as many quotes from junkyards as possible before making your decision. Be on the lookout for one technique used by unscrupulous junkyards: the Bait and Switch. Some junkyards give you a conditional price based on your description, and say they’ll inspect the car when they arrive to pick it up with their wrecker. Once the car is on the truck, they offer you a much lower figure than you agreed upon on the phone. All the pressure is on you to capitulate, because the car is already on their truck.

Don’t worry about missing out on a few more dollars if they ask to inspect your car first. Give the junkyard a detailed description of your car and its condition, and accompany it with digital pictures if necessary. Ask for a firm price, and make them stick to it.

Header Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs