Auto Salvage Yards: A Business Model

Beth Jacobs shares business model for restoring and selling old cars; including information on dealing with red tape, financing, equipment and acquisitions.

| March/April 1976

  • salvage yard
    Auto salvage yards can be a necessity.  Beth Jacobs explains how to start your own salvage business.

  • salvage yard
Does the idea of having your very own auto wrecking business turn you off? If so — and ladies, please pay particular attention! you'll want to learn why a 45-year-old California woman with three children became an authority on Detroit's old clunkers and how she uses her knowledge to turn piles of "junk" into heaps of $$$. Nope, there aren't any tricks involved, and you don't even have to be a mechanic to duplicate her success.

Four years ago, when I was 45, my husband left me with three children and the beginnings of a auto salvage yard. At the time I hardly knew an automobile starter from a generator (let alone whether any particular part was Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler). Nor was I especially fond of my business address: a short, unpaved, muddy, rutted lane that dead-ended at a sewer plant and a hog farm and which — ironically enough — was named Eden Road.

Today BJ's Auto Wreckers inventories 100 old cars on a quarter acre of land and the enterprise is thriving so vigorously that I now call the lane my "Garden of Eden Road".

What's more, if I (a mere woman) can successfully operate a wrecking yard — and make $1,000 a month doing it — you can too. All you'll really need is a hunk of ground on the outskirts of what currently passes for civilization, and a bare minimum of mechanical ability. Add the first to the second, throw in about $2,500 for the used salvage equipment described in this article, top with a few dollars of working capital and you'll be ready to start recycling America's Number One Product: The Automobile.

And, although not everyone sees it this way, I believe that mine is a worthy calling in the present age of economy and ecology. By recycling parts from old junkers that have already expired into younger junkers that are still running, I know that I'm both 1.) helping other people stretch limited dollars and 2.) somewhat lessening our society's need for the copper, steel, aluminum, etc., that goes into new cars. To think that I'm paid well for doing such meritorious work!

Dealing With Red Tape

If you'd like to give my calling a try, don't — for gosh's sake — shout your intentions to the world; not, at least, until you've planned your strategy for doing battle with the various governmental agencies that issue the multitude of permits you'll need. Auto salvage yards are as necessary in our country as sunshine is to the nation's crops but authorities balk at issuing a new wrecking yard permit until its prospective owner has jumped through more than his or her share of hoops.

Start by checking your local municipal zoning code to determine whether or not an "auto junkyard" is a permitted use of your property. If your town has no such ordinances or an ordinance which carries no restrictions against this use, you've cleared your first hurdle. (A note of caution: Salvage yards are generally prohibited by most urban and suburban codes or, if allowed, are frequently heavily restricted and regulated. Careful investigation at this point in the founding of your new business can save you time and money later. If you start the salvage operation without proper zoning clearance, you could soon find yourself defending a municipal court action or forced to seek a variance — which you might not receive — in the zoning code. Either course of action could be expensive and time consuming.—MOTHER.) 

2/15/2016 10:30:32 PM

I am looking into this myself. Also mother of three very young children. I found this informative encouraging. This give me some guidance as well.

7/27/2015 3:50:57 PM

I reopened my grandpas salvage yard in October of 2013. I had about 500 vehicles ranging from 1938 and up. I have added about 150 to 200 vehicles since. Still pulling in the old junk cars. It's what we like! I was 23 and 6 weeks pregnant when I started. there are some weeks I barely get by, but then there are those weeks that are boomin! I live in a very small area where most of these vehicles would have ended up in a scrap metal yard after being pulled out of someones fence row. I always try to get to that fence row first! It is very hard being a young female in this industry. not to mention all the epa and state bullcrap you have to put up with, but this is what I grew up doing and I wouldn't change it for the world. We have people from around the world visit. It's an amazing feeling hearing someone say "We haven't seen a yard like this since the 70's." 3 weeks after I took this place on and started the reopening process my grandpa passed. so I was left with about 9 buildings and 54 acres of stuff to sort through. The cars are sorted and we have started on buildings. It is a never ending process! I loved your article, it is very inspiring and pushes me to keep on!! I wish you continuing success!

4/24/2015 2:20:30 PM

I never knew that wrecking and salvaging cars could be so profitable! How long has this industry been around? I'll have to look into getting into something like this. I own an auto repair shop but I've been looking to get into something a bit different. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

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