There are all kinds of ways to fix a car; the right way, the wrong way - and somewhere in between.

Most of us prefer not to "fix" our vehicles the wrong way. Duct tape and bondo will only get you so far. And we all know about the right way - the best parts and service that money can buy. This route makes sense when money is no object and the vehicle is dearly loved and you intend to keep it for many years to come.

But what about a mechanical middle ground? A fix that isn't shoddy where it counts (functionality/safety) yet saves you some dough? How about that?

That's where used parts - and bonyards - come in.

Bonyards, parts yards - whatever you want to call them - are ideal places to find things like replacement wheelcovers/trim rings and even replacement wheels. The "over the counter" cost of brand-new factory aluminum wheels - and even those "cheapie" plastic covers - can be shocking. But unless you are driving something exotic, remember that there are tens of thousands of cars just like yours out there - with identical wheels (and many other parts, too). Inevitably, many will get smashed up and sent to the boneyard. You can nab a wheel (or a whole set) from a "junked" car and slap them on yours for a lot less than you'd pay for the identical wheel/cover at the dealer.

The used wheel may need a little cleaning up - and it's important to make sure the junkyard will permit you to return it if it's later found to be bent or out-of-round. But otherwise, it's hard to go wrong.

Similarly, windshields (and other auto glass), body panels, interior trim - basically, anything that's just a piece of metal, plastic or glass and therefore is pretty much guaranteed to "work" just as well as a new part - is worth getting at a parts yard if you are looking to save some cash.

For example, let's say you ruined a seat by spilling barbecue sauce all over it. The dealer (or an upholstery shop) will want hundreds of dollars to recover the seat. But assuming your car or truck is fairly new (built within the past five model years), odds are excellent you'll be able to buy an identical seat (with not-ruined covers/upholstery) from a junkyard for a fraction of that. I've bought whole seats for $50.

Door interior panels and dashboards are two more examples of parts that come with massive price tags when bought new, but which are usually much cheaper to buy at junkyards. What about color? Well, so long as the material itself isn't ripped or otherwise damaged, a good upholstery shop can re-dye these parts to match your car's original parts.

Junkyards also sell used engines (complete or parts), transmissions, rear ends and other mechancial parts - but this is a much more mixed bag than the stuff we just got through discussing. Any used mechanical/electrical part involves a whole new layer of complexity and risk. Remember, a windshield is either cracked - or it isn't. A fender is either straight and free of rust - or it isn't. But with used engines and stuff like that... well, you never know.

Even a knowledgeable person with the right tools is making an educated guess at best. For example, one can evaluate a used engine by manually turning it over (to see whether anything is stuck) and (if it can be cranked) checking the compression with a gauge. But short of disassembly - and without being able to check its operation while running - there's no guarantee you're getting anything more than a pile of rather pricey, greasy parts.

So be careful.

Some people are tempted by the low cost of a junkyard transmission. Where a new/rebuilt unit might cost $2,000, the junkyard part might cost a third that amount. It may even come with a 30-day guarantee that allows the buyer to return it for an exchange if it fails.

But as tempting as that might be, think about it carefully. You're buying a pig in a poke; the car may run for a week; or it might run for 5 years. If it fails, you will probably get to pay for the cost and endure the hassle of removing the transmission and replacing it. Assuming you pay to have this work done, the cost of that second removal/re-installation procedure in all likelihood would have financed a new/rebuilt - and fully guaranteed - replacement.

Bear in mind that a junkyard transmission may have been sitting unprotected, exposed to the elements, for months. If it hasn't been run in some time (several months) internal seals may have dried out and could leak if the unit is put back into service. The fluid may have been contaminated if the cooler lines/disptick were opened or exposed to the environment. It's virtually impossible to know.

It's the same with used engines, axles and related parts.

Having said all that, there's nothing wrong with obtaining "cores" - engine blocks, cylinder heads, carburetors, etc. - from a junkyard that you intend to rebuild.

To avoid trouble, stick to this simple rule: Non-operational parts (trim, body panels, etc.) are usually fine to obtain via the boneyard. But any part that moves needs to be checked carefully before being put into service.