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You invest in cars for their utility. You need to go places, and cars are often times the best transportation to take. But maintenance is part of car ownership too, and at some point in your life, you’ll need to purchase new car parts for your vehicle.
The free market complicates your decision. The aftermarket provides numerous options for replacement parts for many popular cars. The price and the quality of these parts will vary, but they’re often cheaper than buying from your local dealership. The question is, should you buy them?
The Nuance of Replacement Car Parts
The most important thing to know when you select replacement parts for your car is the car itself. Even parts that look the same on the outside can undergo small changes between model years. These changes make the part you’re looking for specific to your car.
This is why you have part numbers.
Before laying down cash, always check the part number so you’re dead-certain it’s the part you need. Research to see what people are charging for a given part. Look for reliable retailers who carry secondhand parts for just about any car.
How to Use the Aftermarket
Speaking of cash, you might be attracted to aftermarket parts because of their lower price point. The problem with aftermarket parts is the lack of build quality. However, you can still duck the premiums dealers charge by shopping for parts at a junkyard.
If you do choose to use aftermarket parts, have a good understanding of what you need and how it should be fabricated. For example, if you’re cross-shopping two body panels, one aluminum and one magnesium, make sure you understand the pros and cons of the different materials. Aftermarket companies have to cut corners to keep costs down, but doing your homework could lead you to a great deal.
One situation where it’s safe to use the aftermarket for most cars is with wear-and-tear items like brake pads and motor oil. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you’re driving a high-end exotic, but for your average people-hauler, switching to an off-brand oil or transmission fluid could save you a few bucks for service, and won’t have any noticeable effects on the car.
How to Handle Special Cases
When circumstances force you to track down a very specific part — something from a rare car or trim level — take caution. It’s best to inspect these parts in person before you buy. Sometimes, you can even hit the jackpot at the pick & pull. Committed wrenchers will want to pick up a parts car to harvest hard-to-find pieces, rather than repeatedly chasing down one-offs.
Look for Deals Online
If you’ve figured out what kind of parts you need, it’s time to look for the best prices. One great place to start is Twitter. Start following parts companies, who usually will tweet out their best prices. If there’s a part you want but don’t need at the moment, you might have good luck keeping an eye out for it on your Twitter feed. For example, EuropaParts just tweeted a sale on Ross-Tech diagnostic systems for only $199, which would save you a few hundred bucks if you were thinking of getting one.
Remember that the internet brings owners of nearly every make and model together through the magic of forums. If a specific part or repair question has you stumped, you can usually get a nudge in the right direction just by writing up a quick post. Just make sure you have confidence in your parts before making a purchase.