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Self-service yards: Are they coming to an end?

Simon Bastin-Mitchell on self-service scrapyards
   Simon Bastin-Mitchell

Simon Bastin-Mitchell, an Automotive Recycling Consultant gives his reasons why self-service scrapyards are dying out in the UK and why its US counterpart is still going strong. 

Are self-service scrapyards in the United Kingdom coming to an end?

With some of the largest UK recycling companies or scrapyards like Charles Trent and Combellack Vehicle Recycling recently shutting their doors to ‘self-service’, ‘you pick it’ or ‘do it yourself’, is there still a need or demand for this type of yard?

What is the goal of the self-service yard?

For the customer, it is to get a low cost replacement part for a fraction of the price of a main dealer and a much reduced price to the other full service option.

For the recycler in the UK, it is or was about getting those few extra £’s out of the older, lower valued vehicles before they went into the baler and by letting the customer remove the parts, it saved on those growing dismantler costs.

Why does the UK struggle and the US thrive on self-service?

Self-service yards are on the decline in the UK, unlike in the US, where I have experienced firsthand over the past seven years, the likes ofGo-Pull-It’,Pick-N-Pull’ andPullAPart’ seem to enjoy endless customers paying their entry fee and walking the isles, searching hundreds of vehicles of all makes and models for the parts they need.

So why such contrast in the same industry?

I put it down to a few things: space; the average age of an ELV; and differences in customer mindset.

Self-service yardsSpace – As we all know, the UK is an island, and with its growing population, housing challenges, tied in with strict laws on health & safety and environment, maximising the amount of space you have on a site is key to operating in a profitable way. 

So why layout 300 older vehicles on the floor for Joe Public to walk round, remove parts and make more mess than at a four year old’s birthday party, when you could rack 300 higher valued vehicles in a lesser space, for full-service and return a much higher average per vehicle.

In the US the average self-service yard size that I have been to is probably 10 acres, and with the size of the US there is plenty of space to go around. From my visits I don’t see as many hybrid sites that offer both self-service and full-service but more yards that specialise in each type of service.

Average age of an ELV – In my opinion, in the UK we are snobs because we only drive vehicles for an average age of 10-12 years before it becomes an ELV but in the US they run their vehicles longer. I would estimate the average age to be around 15-18 years meaning more of a demand for these vehicles.

Customer mindset – A great example of this is the one dollar entry fee to a self-service yard. It works in the US but you try and get Joe Public in the UK to pay that fee before they go in, they would rather cut their own nose off and drive 45 minutes than pay it. (I know this for a fact as I have spoken to a number of those customers who have made that journey and wanted to rant about it!).

Generational mindset – Is there another difference in mindset between the two countries? There are still a handful of UK companies offering self-service, such as Co-Part and Silverlake Automotive Recycling but will these disappear sooner rather than later because of the difference in generational mindset?

The general outlook on life of a Gen Alpha, iGen, Gen Z, Y and Millennial is completely different to those earlier generations. Most of the later generations are born with a mobile in their hand. Parents are overprotective and are more cautious than ever and take less risks.

Also longer working hours means less time for socialising; Why would they want to go down to a self-service yard with a growing number of people lacking the knowledge in how to take off whatever part they need and at a risk. It might not be the right part and wasting that precious time they could have spent at a bar with their friends talking about what Emily did or didn’t do or should or shouldn’t have shown her holiday snaps on Instagram, when they could have bought it online.

Tie that all in to the fact that you can now live your world online and buy whatever you want and get it delivered the next day with the likes of Amazon and eBay. The younger generation is growing up with this way of life, they are not all growing up with a spanner in their hand, getting dirty.

My conclusion

It is a shame to see but I do believe in the UK the self-service yards will come to an end for Joe Public within the next 3-5 years. Pushing on any further than that I believe would not prove to be profitable considering what I have mentioned above.

For the smaller trader, there might still be some life in it, but then as a small trader they have to weigh up the question: Do they really want to send one of the mechanics out of the business for a number of hours, or even the owner to a self-service yard when they could be working on another vehicle bringing in the cash?

What do you think?

About Simon Bastin-Mitchell

As an Automotive Recycling Consultant based in the UK, with over 16 years in the industry and a further 8 in sales and customer service, I am driven in the pursuit of achieving greater profits through improved processes, policies, employee training and clearer responsibilities. I am now consulting with several UK recycling companies to explore greater revenue and profits from vehicles they process for auction, dismantling, export, core and scrap. With current projects including working with the UK’s largest End-of-Life (ELV) ATF’s, processing 10,000+ vehicles a month, to supporting a family run full service yard in Ireland exploring and growing eBay parts sales. 

If you would like to find out more about Bastin-Mitchell Consulting visit


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Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

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