Back in the day most DIYers did not have many options for where they could buy aftermarket car parts. Most DIYers went to the neighborhood auto parts store and paid whatever price the store gave them. Sure, maybe you had a few options depending on how many auto parts stores were in town, but the marketplace was usually restricted to your geographic area.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, we are now blessed with the internet and literally thousands of choices for who we choose to buy parts from. The internet has really put the power into consumers to choose what they want and how much they want to pay.
However, there is a huge caveat to this enormous increase in choices. There has also been an influx of substandard quality parts available online for misleadingly cheap prices. You might buy one of these parts thinking you have gotten a killer deal, only to discover months later that your part has already failed.
In this article I am going to discuss some of the best places to do your parts shopping so you can avoid having a “to good to be true” part experience that ends up biting you in the rear end. I’m a hard head and I frequently have to learn lessons the hard way, unfortunately picking the right auto parts supplier was one such experience.
Not everyone loves ordering parts online. I understand, many people that have been burned before like to actually have the part in their hands first before paying for it. I like to see the part as well before I purchase it, nothing sucks more than buying a part online and waiting a day or two for it to come in, just to discover that the part is incorrect.
My experience with the internet however is that nine out of ten times the part I order is exactly correct. For me, a 10% return rate is worth the 40-70% I save on car parts buy ordering them online.
I love Rock Auto and I would recommend it to most people unless you need an OEM brand. Rock Auto is an independent website that carries hundreds of thousands of parts for all types of cars. The price is almost significantly cheaper than the local O’Reillys or Advance Auto and they sell name brand parts.
They have most name brands available such as AC Delco, Moog, Bosch, Denso, Valeo, NGK, Beck Arnley. I usually prefer to stick with brands I trust for certain parts, like Moog for suspension, and Bosh and Denso for sensors, but sometimes I will purchase off-brand parts from Rock Auto and I have not had an issue with them. Rock Auto also has very good customer service and every time I have had an issue with them they have promptly shipped me a replacement part.
The only thing to watch for is the shipping cost. Certain parts on Rock Auto like strut assemblies and other larger, heavier parts may not be worth it when you add in shipping cost and compare it to your local auto parts store.
I’ll start this off by saying I do not trust Ebay for new parts. I have had too many problems dealing with vendors on that marketplace to buy any more new parts from them. I bought an idle control valve which was made for a completely different car, two brake rotors which had the screw hole in the wrong place and a valve cover gasket that was far too loose for comfort.
Stunning recommendation right? Well, that is my opinion on buying new parts from Ebay. Ebay also has a huge marketplace for used parts, which I have found to be extremely useful. I did a variable valve timing job on my brother’s BMW and decided to replace the camshaft position sensor while I was there. Unfortunately there are certain parts that you have to buy OEM for BMW or it simply wont work. The position sensor is one of them, but BMW wanted $300 for it, and my brother was not having it. So I found a used OEM sensor for $40, put it in and now the car is back running smoothly!
Tips for Buying on Ebay
Ebay is a huge marketplace, and any schmuck can sell a part on Ebay. To make the best out of your Ebay purchase you should stick to reputable sellers with hundreds if not thousands of good feedback. It’s also best practice to have the actual parts number with you because I have seen sellers mess up their listing, and many will over list what cars the part fits, and cover their butt’s by saying “always check your part number to ensure proper fitment” at the bottom of the listing.
Amazon has grown leaps and bounds in the auto parts market. This ever-increasing monopoly of a company is going to own the world at this rate, but for now it can be a great source of parts. The biggest advantage is that if you already have Amazon Prime lots of parts come with free 1 day or 1 day shipping. Many other auto parts websites are unfortunately stuck in the last century and take five business days for the part to get to your door. Not Amazon, Amazon understands that in today’s “need it now” culture it can slaughter the online parts competition with extremely fast and cheap shipping.
This is another awesome site that has a unique niche in the junkyard industry. Nobody wants to pay $5-10,000 for a new transmission, well maybe you do but I am poor. Car-parts.com is a directory of junkyards across the United States, Canada and Mexico. It’s kind of like Craigslist for junkyards.
Junkyards will list individual parts on this site, and you can search for parts by make/model/year and geographic area. The listing will usually have the price and then you call the junkyard to set up the pickup. Some junkyards will pull the part for you and already have the fee built into the price, others do not provide a removal service or will charge you extra for it.
I have purchased a transmission and a rear differential from car-parts.com, and I had excellent experiences with both.
Tips for Buying on Car-parts.com
Usually the parts listing will have the approximate mileage of the part. I highly recommend avoiding parts without a mileage indicator or with 200k + miles on it. That being said it may depend on what you plan on using the car for. If you only drive the vehicle every now and again, you may not mind getting a higher mileage part than you otherwise would if the vehicle was a daily driver.
I list Walmart because this might be surprising, but their oil, oil filter and air filter prices are almost ALWAYS far cheaper than your local auto parts store. I used to work at an O’Reillys and honestly their oil is a rip-off compared to Walmart.
Remember that every auto parts store carries the exact same name brand oil. The Mobil 1 you buy from Walmart is the exact same as the Mobil 1 sold at Advance Auto and O’Reillys, it’s just a lot cheaper. I only go to Walmart for those three things and sometimes spark plugs, but it’s worth a mention for the enormous savings you will get out of going there instead of an auto parts store.
Auto Parts Stores
Is there really any difference in these places anymore? If you got into mechanics years ago you have probably noticed that things have changed significantly in the auto parts store business.
Gone are the days that these places were filled with competent, retired mechanics. Wage stagnation at these stores has forced old-mechanics out. The service desks are now dominated by teenagers working minimum wage that could not tell apart a windshield wiper from a steering wheel. It’s not their fault, it’s the store business model that has ruined auto parts stores reputation as a source of automotive knowledge.
Gone are the days that prices and service actually varied between different auto parts stores. Nowadays they all look exactly the same, and they all have the same customer rewards program. You might believe that their in-house brands use different manufacturers, but the truth is they all come out of the same factory.
So is there any real benefits in shopping at your local auto parts store? Sure, there’s quite a few and that’s why I shop at mine all the time (although grudgingly). First off nothing beats the fact that the part is often right there at the store. When I’m fixing a car I don’t want to have to wait a few days for the part to come in, I want it now. Although O’Reillys and Advance do not have an unlimited inventory of niche parts, they do keep in stock a lot of the most commonly replaced ones on popular model vehicles.
Another advantage is that the parts are usually significantly cheaper than the dealership, which generally wants an arm and a leg for anything and everything. The parts are cheap enough and accessible enough that I personally don’t find it worth my time to buy my Ford Ranger parts online. My O’Reillys usually has everything I need for my Ranger in stock and for a price I am comfortable with. On the other hand my O’Reillys sucks for BMW parts. They usually have to order them, and this can vary from same day all the way to two weeks!
So which auto parts store is the best?
The biggest auto parts stores nowadays are Advanced Auto, O’Reillys and Autozone. Their prices, rewards program, service and layout are all similar. So there is no correct answer on which one is “best”. I have found that it varies by geographic area. In my immediate area, the O’Reillys has a warehouse located twenty minutes away and gets five shipments a day. For that reason I almost always buy from O’Reillys when I am buying from a local auto parts store. That being said, I have heard the same story from people in different areas about the other two stores so you really just have to decide for yourself.
Tips for buying parts from an auto parts store
Don’t come there expecting answers to car questions. Your having trouble diagnosing a problem or your not sure how to replace your starter? There’s a 50/50 chance that the guy at the counter does not know how to change his oil, so keep that in mind. That being said, I used to work at O’Reillys and I can testify that there are a few people from time to time working their that have many years of mechanics experience. But they are the exception to the rule.
Auto parts stores have so much turnover that half the time their service people are not very good at using the store’s part locator. Trust me I have had to find my own parts several times when the kid could not figure out how to find it in the computer. To help mitigate this problem, your best solution is to show up to the store with a part number, better yet the store’s part number.
I hope this article helped with your auto parts purchases, it took me quite away to dig through the dirt to find a solid number of reliable and reputable online vendors so I hope this article helps you avoid having to go through a couple of duds.