Like most things, salvage yards have a good face and a not-so-good face.
The not-so-good face of a salvage yard is that it can be a sad place. Afterall, each of the cars, trucks, vans or SUVs in the piles of discarded vehicles that one sees in a salvage yard was once a brand new vehicle in a dealer lot or in a showroom. Those days are gone for the vehicles in a salvage yard.
The good face of a salvage yard is that many of the parts and components of salvaged vehicles can be used again. Therefore, consumers and vehicle owners can save a substantial amount of money by purchasing parts at a salvage yard. In addition, the parts available in a salvage yard do not have to be manufactured "from scratch." This makes salvage yards part of the environmental solution because they help save the energy and materials that would be required to make a new part, not to mention saving the human effort involved. Finally, parts, components, and entire vehicles if not sold, are recycled - their raw materials are used for another commodity, perhaps even another motor vehicle. Communities today often see salvage yards as an asset because they are performing services that are helpful to the environment and employ people in useful, gainful employment.
Most of the vehicles in a salvage yard are there because they cannot be repaired or they have been so heavily damaged in an accident or natural catastrophe, such as a flood or fire, that they are no longer useable. That is where a salvage yard takes over.
The salvage yard usually tows its undriveable, non-repairable vehicles to the yard. There they are mechanically stacked in rows, often on top of one another. Most salvage yards use computer inventory systems to keep track of vehicles and parts available.
It used to be that when someone needed a part, s/he put in a phone request and the request was faxed to various salvage yards. Responses were also by phone.
Today, computers and the internet handle most part requests. If someone needs a part, s/he fills out a request. The request goes out over the internet. Responses are sent by email.
In some cases, it is still possible to save money by removing a component from a vehicle yourself. These salvage yards are known as "You Pull It" yards. Most salvage yards, however, employ a staff that removes popular vehicle parts, and inventories them on shelves for quick easy access and sales. Popular vehicle parts include headlight and taillight assemblies, grilles, seats, hoods, mirrors, bumpers, quarter panels, fenders, doors, and liftgates.
Many major vehicle components, such as transmissions and engines, are removed and sold to companies who refurbish them. Some salvage yards refurbish these components themselves, although these salvage yards are usually the larger ones. Some salvage yards keep entire older vehicles and sell them to people who eventually want to rebuild them. These vehicles are known as "rebuilders."