Who needs a mechanic for auto repairs? Fixing simple automotive parts, like headlights, batteries and air filters, is easy. If you’re ambitious, you can try more advanced projects, such as adding aftermarket parts and auto accessories or replacing car parts like belts and brake pads. The obvious lure is saving money -- mechanics charge for their labor, and also tend to charge rather high prices for each automotive part they install. But there are other benefits in a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of control over your own vehicle and purse.
Fixing your own car nearly always means buying auto parts. Car parts come in three basic types, and sellers must always tell you which kind of part they're selling:
1. OEM (original equipment manufacturer). OEM parts are made by the same maker who made the original part on your car; in effect, they are identical replacements for the original car parts.
2. Aftermarket parts: Aftermarket parts fit and work just like the original (or better), but are not made by the original manufacturer and are often priced far lower than OEM parts.
3. Used auto parts. Used auto parts that have already been in service for awhile and may (or may not) have some life left in them.
Here are the most effective solutions for buying automotive parts:
Buy car parts online from the major store brands
Most of the same car parts stores you pass every day also sell online. The advantage to buying online from these stores is that you can make returns to the store instead of return-shipping them. There's also something to be said for a vendor with a national consumer reputation, and someone to talk to face-to-face when you have questions about a part you bought online.
AutoZone and Pep Boys.
Buy auto parts from specialty online super-dealers
Online car parts retailers tend to position themselves much differently from the store-based retailers. They often claim that they carry a far greater range of automotive parts than the others -- they may stock that thermostat for a '67 Audi that AutoZone never heard of. Online sources also may have better prices, and they often carry the same part from a variety of manufacturers to give you more options -- often including OEM parts, aftermarket parts and used auto parts, so you can compare. Where a store-based retailer may offer three makes of spark plug to fit your vehicle, an online retailer may have ten, at a wide range of prices. On the flip side, many online parts stores are aimed at a higher proficiency level. Translation: They sometimes expect you to know what you want and what it does, and don't offer as much help as they might.
Locate hard-to-find used auto parts at online junk dealers
Sure, junkyards have always been the bargain basement of the car parts game. But now they are online, presented as "used auto parts" dealers. Online used parts stores are great for things that can be reliably rebuilt, such as alternators or water pumps, or for items of trim or fittings that are impossible to find elsewhere, like a dashboard for '99 Taurus. Although many used parts dealers warranty their wares, bear in mind -- it's cheap, but it's still used.
Get OEM parts straight from your car's manufacturer
The dealer? Yes, the dealer. Why not? It's auto parts orthodoxy that a car part from the dealer is always more expensive and for no good reason. But knowing that they compete directly now with online retailers, many manufacturers' sites now offer competitive prices for their OEM auto parts. One caveat: They tend to carry only late-model parts; you're more likely to find that car part for your '84 Volvo from another online seller than from Volvo. Note too that you do not have to buy your OEM auto parts direct from the dealer; third-party online retailers sell both aftermarket auto parts and OEM auto parts.
Style up with auto accessories - the car parts with class!
It's important to appreciate the distinction between "auto parts" and "auto accessories": If it came on the car when it was new, and now it needs replacing, it's a part. If it's unnecessary and you want to add it, it's an accessory. Parts include mufflers and air filters and windshields. Auto accessories include bike carriers, leopard-print steering wheel covers and mud flaps that say "back off!". The Internet is auto accessory heaven. You can find anything and everything you could ever imagine adding to your car -- and lots of stuff beyond your imagination.
- Most mechanics will not install an automotive part you bought yourself, but some smaller outfits will, charging just an hourly rate for labor.
- Another place to look for hard-to-find auto parts is eBay's auto site, eBay motors.
- Some dealers and sites claim that OEM auto parts are superior to aftermarket auto parts, and therefore charge more for them. Others say aftermarket auto parts are just as good, but cheaper. Only you can decide, but you should take note of whether a part is OEM or not in making your choice.