When and How to Part Out a Car


how to part out a car old car

Part out my vehicle? Why on earth would I spend the enormous amount of time and energy to part out a car when I can just sell it free and clear?! The answer is simple, as cars age the value of the car as a whole becomes less and less as compared to the value of the parts. This is especially true when the vehicle has a major problem such as a rod knock, blown head gasket, blown transmission or has been in an accident and the car as a whole is now only worth pennies. If you have a lot of intact parts on the vehicle but your only going to get $500 for the car as a whole, parting it out may be a serious consideration.

Before I went to law school I ran a small business buying/selling and parting out cars, especially BMWs. This article will discuss the benefits and negatives of parting out cars and tips on whether it’s worth it for you. It will also discuss some tips on how to part out a vehicle in the hopes that it will help avoid someone from stacking up their garage with parts that sit for a year (I’m guilty of this).

Background

I didn’t really begin learning how to work on cars until I bought my first parts car. Of course at the time I did not realize that I was buying a parts car. One of my best friends had told me about a business that he ran with his dad, where they would buy antique vehicles, fix them up, and flip them for a profit. After hearing what my friend was doing I figured I could do it to so I scoured Craigslist ads for a hot deal. I had a major problem though, I was in high school with only like $700 bucks to my name. This forced me to look at only the low end bargains which in all honestly were mostly shitboxes and vehicles with a number of other issues such as title problems and blown head gaskets.

Eventually I settled on a 1996 BMW 328i with a possibly blown head gasket and a title problem but I bought it anyways because the vehicle only had 120k miles on it and the guy only wanted $400. After I purchased the vehicle I tried for weeks to get the title cleared but when I discovered that it would be nearly impossible I decided that parting the vehicle out could make me a lot of money since my cost for the vehicle was so low. I was right, but I couldn’t have imagined at the time how much work it would be to pull the parts, list them, and sell/ship them.

Why should you part out a car?

I’ll start off by saying that in most circumstances it doesn’t make since to part out your vehicle. Unless your running a used parts business on the internet it usually makes more since to sell the vehicle than it does to part it out.

So when does it make sense to part out the car?

When the car as a whole is worth pennies, and the parts are worth substantially more.

how to part out a car money

That 328i I bought was selling for anywhere between $3500-$4000 in good condition at the time. However since it had a blown head gasket and a bad title it was pretty much worth $500. Parting the vehicle out without those problems would have been insane. When it was all said and done I made about $2,500 from the vehicle but that $2,500 was extremely labor intensive and less than what the car would have been worth in good condition.

When the vehicle is on the lower mileage spectrum

A working engine with 120k miles on it is worth far more than a working engine with 220k miles on it. Same thing for electronic and other mechanical parts. Now, when you purchase a used part on Ebay you might notice that many sellers don’t even tell you what kind of mileage is on the part. I always list the mileage with a used part. First, because people will pay more for lower mileage parts and they will trust you more when you list the mileage. Second, because not listing the mileage is dishonest, at least it is if you are aware of the mileage on the vehicle. Gauging the value of the parts with the mileage on the vehicle is not an exact science but be warned that most cars with 250k miles on them are not going to be worth very much in parts. There are exceptions to this rule, the biggest one being if it’s a classic vehicle. Popular classic vehicles from decades ago drive an astronomical valuation for parts as compared to most other vehicles.

If you have the time to part out a vehicle

Parting out a car, especially for a first-timer can consume some serious time to get the most value out. If you already have experience in repairing cars, removing big parts such as transmissions and motors than it will be significantly less time-consuming, but if not you really have to factor in the dozens of hours you will have to put not just in pulling the parts but also into selling them.

If you have the interest in parting out a vehicle

Honestly, part of the reason I really enjoyed parting out cars was the learning experience. It teaches you how everything is put together and how it all comes together to work. It also made me a better mechanic because I learned how to remove everything from a car, and if I broke something it wasn’t a big deal because I wasn’t trying to get the car running. Not everybody likes working on cars and fewer people enjoy the process of pulling apart an entire car, meeting with people to sell parts, and shipping parts. Your basically running a temporary small business until the sales run out. If this doesn’t excite you your likely going to be miserable halfway through the process.

If you have the tools.

The last thing you want to do is spend hundreds of dollars on tools to part out a vehicle, especially if you don’t repair your own cars in the first place. If you already have some car repair experience and you have acquired a lot of tools than your profit from the sales will be significantly higher.

Other Considerations

If you have a lot of unused space, you can afford to pull parts that take longer to sell than those that you can expect to sell within a few weeks. This is a huge advantage because when I was parting out vehicles I would continue to make money from sales six months after I had sent the car off to the junkyard. It virtually became passive income once I had 100+ listings on ebay for car parts. I would sell 10-20 a month and just renew the rest of the listings.

Not all makes and models are worth your time!

I parted out an 02 Mercedes Benz one time and after that I never parted out another Mercedes. Besides the issue that they are literally a pain in the a$$ to take apart, there just was not nearly as big of a market for used Mercedes parts as there was with other vehicles I had parted out such as older BMWs and Honda. The parts were often worth more than BMW parts, but they just sat on the internet while my BMW parts couldn’t stop flying out the door.

For this reason I recommend that you do some research before deciding to part out your vehicle. Search Ebay’s completed listings, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to get a sense of how many people are actually buying used parts for your model vehicle.

You should do a test run by listing on Craigslist that your parting out your vehicle and see how many inquiries you get. I usually get dozens of calls the first week or two when I do this. If all your getting is crickets that’s a pretty good indicator that your model vehicle does not have a lot of interest for used parts.

How To Part Out A Car

So I’ve discussed when you should part out a car, now I want to talk about how to part out a car. With cars, there’s a right way to do it and there’s a wrong way to do it.

Test all the parts

How can you sell a part and you don’t even know it works? I’m not saying that you need a voltage jumper to test every component, but you should at least cut the car on or turn it two clicks to test all of the electronics including the windows, stereo, a/c, convertible top/sunroof, etc. Most people are not going to buy parts that “might work” so if you want to avoid returns and angry reviews test the parts first.

Pull the expensive “big sellers” first

Not all parts are worth the same, some are worth fifty cents and some are worth $500 bucks. Transmissions, engines, differentials, and other big parts in working condition are worth hundreds of dollars individually. Additionally, many cars have individual quirky parts that are worth far more than you would expect. For example, the first parts car I bought I sold the transmission for $400 bucks. I was pretty happy, but I was far more happy when I discovered that the working convertible top motors were worth $400-500 a piece and they took an hour to remove!

Take lots of pictures

In my experience, listing a heathy amount of pictures with your part whether it be Ebay, Facebook or Craigslist leads to faster sales at higher prices. There is a maximum number of pictures that you can post on Ebay for free, I recommend that you hit that maximum. Take a picture of the model/serial number on the part if it’s still legible and any big scratches/dents. With the advent of high end smartphones it’s easy to have access to a high quality camera so there is no excuse for taking poor quality pictures.

Be aware of local ordinances and laws

This is a biggie because certain parts require special considerations. To my knowledge there are restrictions on the sale of airbags and catalytic converters. If you remove any a/c components you should capture the refrigerant, allowing it to release into the air is illegal and can potentially result in a massive fine.

Don’t Pull Everything

Unless you have unlimited garage space you have no interest in using anytime soon you should refrain from pulling parts willy nilly. After I do a little research on what parts are worth my time, I make a list. I pull all the parts on the list and then I junk the car. If you stay disciplined about it, you won’t have to get a dumpster sent to your house because you still have a hundred car parts sitting in your garage.

Know Who Is Taking the Car

I ran into a problem with this the first time I parted out a car. Most of the local junkyards refused to take my parts car because I had already pulled a significant number of parts. Finally, I was able to find a junkyard that would take the car as long as there was still a component of the drivetrain left, either the transmission, differential or the engine. I’ve been using that junkyard ever since. Your area may have similar issues so before you part out your car check with your local junkyard to identify who will take your old clunker.

The More Places You List the Better

Ebay, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist were my bread and butter for used car parts. Ebay drives a higher price than Craigslist does, but there’s nothing like having cash in hand from a quick sale on Craigslist. The other benefit of Craigslist is the buyer will often show up to the car and realize he need more parts than he originally thought. Just make sure to remove listings on Ebay when you sell them on Craigslist. Additionally, the more parts you sell locally the less you have to worry about figuring out what to charge for shipping.

Here is a quick list of parts that I have found to sell quickly and for a nice piece of change.

I also wrote another article here that includes tips on maximizing the amount of money you make from parting cars.

Body Parts – fenders, bumpers, doors. It warms my heart when I have a parts car where the entire exterior is without rust or major dents. Body parts sell for a lot of money and they are often the first inquiries you will receive. Why? Because people are always getting into fender benders and new body parts are ridiculously expensive.

Rims – Depends on the rim, aluminum rims are worth significantly more than steel rims. Some used aluminum rims can sell for more than $1k depending on the vehicle, but don’t try and oversell the quality of them. Aluminum tends to scratch and get road rash significantly easier than steel and this will decrease the value of the rims.

how to part out a car rims

On Board Display – Newer vehicles and higher end models from the 90s have on board displays in the center of the vehicle that are worth a significant amount of money in good condition. I used to sell the 90s model BMW ones for $100, but the newer ones have far more controls and often drive a price of $200+.

Steering Wheel – OE leather steering wheels in good condition are easily removed, sell fast and frequently sell for $100+. Other materials usually are not worth much, but its worth a quick search on the internet.

Seats – Leather seats in good condition to the right buyer might feel like the holy grail to many parts sellers. I sold one in excellent shape off of a 90s model Benz for $500 bucks. As an added bonus they usually only have four bolts holding them to the floorboard. Even leather seats that are torn up still have some value. If they are electronically controlled they will have several motors and gearboxes underneath that I have found sell quickly.

Air Bags – I was amazed when I found out how much steering wheel airbags often sell for. I sold a Honda Airbag for $250, but be weary. Besides the inherent danger of removing an airbag, the government has strict requirements for shipping airbags. The government requires that they are placed in a cage, as they can pose a danger to UPS carriers if one were to inadvertently deploy.

Catalytic Converters – It’s against the law for junkyards to sell or buy catalytic converters (blame criminals who used to dive under vehicles and saw off cats). However state laws vary concerning the sale of cats to individual buyers so check if your state has any bans on the sale of them. Every time I part out a car I have a guy that comes out to saw off the converter for me for $50.

Radio – OE radios, especially working ones off of older vehicles can be worth a pretty penny, they are also easily removed. However, many car radios require a special tool to remove them and you will need the radio code for whoever you sell it to.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does cover some of the higher value faster selling parts that I have come across. As always, its best to do your own research to identify other fast selling and expensive parts that can be pulled.

Check Out This Video on Parting Out Cars!

Conclusion

I hope this article helped in your decision to part out a vehicle. It can be an enjoyable experience & quite profitable! If you have the time & energy to invest in parting out a car, and other factors favor it I recommend that you give it a try!

Stephen Metellus

I am a BMW enthusiast and owner of abetterbmw.com! I have been repairing, flipping, and parting out BMWs for nearly ten years. I love these vehicles and I hope you will find my articles and YouTube channel helpful for whatever BMW project you have in store!

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