Car owners who call dealerships are often shocked when they learn the cost of replacement parts.
A trim piece that costs maybe $5 to make could carry a 5000% premium at the retail counter. Some parts are priced to the moon simply because many consumers don’t know any better. If only they took the time to shop around.
So, let me help you approach this process like a pro. I personally buy about $20,000 in parts every year for my dealership, and after nearly 15 years of scouring the nation for rare and expensive parts, I’m happy to share my secrets to getting what I need at the lowest possible price.
1. Do Your Research
There are two websites every parts shopper should visit before buying. The first, Car-Part.com, offers the largest database of used auto parts in the world. The second is eBay—perhaps you’ve heard of it—which happens to be a new and remanufactured auto parts sales juggernaut.
There are a few steps to any successful search. Once you find what you need on Car-Part.com, select ‘Distance’ and then click ‘Search’ to see what its market price is in your area. Once you made note of that, go to eBay. Do the same search, and sort by ‘Pricing + Shipping lowest’. Pay special attention to the estimated delivery time in the listing. Parts from overseas can sometimes take over a month to get to your home.
2. Verify, Verify, Verify!
Call the dealership to confirm your specific part number before you complete any purchase. If you don’t confirm the part number, any grief that ensues is of your own making.
You’ll learn that some parts are unique to certain engine and transmission combinations. And the list of potentially affected parts is long, from computers, modules, and sensors, to more basic items like alternators and starters.
3. Haggle, But Be Polite
It’s common courtesy for most junkyards to match a lower price for a part at another retailer in the same geographical region. There are two important caveats to this, however.
First, you have to compare apples with apples. Don’t expect a junkyard to price-match their 20,000-mile engine with one nearby that has 200,000 miles on it.
Second, when you haggle, make sure you say you did your homework on Car-Part.com, and be honest with the guy on the other line. He has the same information as you do, and if you jerk him around, he’ll know and he may return the favor, so to speak.
4. Craigslist is a Crapshoot
Craigslist isn’t always a good source. In the real world of buying parts, it can frequently become a big time-suck compared with going to a junkyard or buying online. Plus, most of what you buy on Craigslist will be sold as is, while the other two sources allow you to either exchange the part or get your money back. For this reason, I get fewer than two percent of my parts from Craigslist.
5. Always Look For Coupons
Auto parts retailers are expensive. But they don’t have to be. This website will help you find coupon codes or manufacturer rebates that may not pop up when you visit the auto parts store online.
I’ve sometimes found starters and alternators that were within $20 of an eBay or a junkyard find, with the added perks of a limited lifetime warranty and free delivery. To me, that extra $20 is worth the peace of mind.
Know that if a dealership is tells you that buying a part from someone other than them will void your car’s warranty, it’s not true. I usually buy batteries, fluids, and filters online from either auto parts stores, eBay, Walmart, or Amazon. If you find yourself just short of that ‘$50 off of $125’ coupon code you found online, just add some items you know you’ll use anyway, like filters or coolant, to get the order up where it needs to be.
6. Buy Rare Parts In Person
Some parts for hybrid vehicles, high-end models, and classics are unique. For instance, I once needed a DC-DC converter for a 10-year-old Honda Civic Hybrid. The price at the dealership was $1800, and neither eBay nor Car-Part listed it as available.
By going to a nearby junkyard that had the car in their inventory, I was able to locate this unusual part for only $100. I’ve found that specific modules for older or limited-run vehicles can create similar headaches. So if you’re buying rare, unique, and hard-to-find parts, your best bet is to try and track it down in person.
7. Still can’t find it? Get medieval!
If online hunting doesn’t turn up the part you need, it’s time to visit the self-service junkyards.
Many hobbyists with time to kill will bring their own tools, find the part they need, remove it themselves, and pay a pittances for it. This is the cheapest option in dollars and cents, but it does cost you time.
8. Enlist Forum Help For Faraway Parts
There have been times when I’ve finally been able to locate a rare part, but it seems to be as far away from me as Mercury is from Pluto. This is when I turn to fellow enthusiasts for help.
Online forums for your make and model usually have members spread across the United States. By asking for assistance acquiring a part that’s not local to you (and perhaps offering $50 for the trouble), you can still get what you need and help out a like-minded grease monkey in the process. Make/model forums sometimes have dedicated parts-listing threads, as well.
If enthusiast forums don’t work, try reaching out through Facebook. You’d be surprised what a friend of a friend will do for a little extra cash.
9. Consider Buying a Parts Car
If you have the space, think about picking up a parts car that can serve as a donor vehicle. By searching public-auction listings nearby, you can find a local impound-lot auction that may offer you an inoperable version of your vehicle. Local newspapers also have an “Auction” section for towing and repair companies that sell parts cars in your community.
Another option is to buy a vehicle from a salvage auction such as Copart or Insurance Auto Auctions. However, keep in mind that most states will require you to use a broker to acquire the vehicle.
Be prepared to spend around $600 for a common spare vehicle locally and about twice as much at the big salvage auctions. The nationwide outfits usually have access to much better vehicles. This is especially the case for those of us who need spare body parts.
10. The Dealer is Your Last Resort
If you haven’t found the part at this point, then—and only then—pay the dealer. To be fair, dealers are at the mercy of manufacturers, so don’tblame them if you find their parts costs unreasonable.