How to Buy Car Parts On-Line. Things have changed!

New Automotive parts on a metal table

Buying car parts has changed for me over the last decade that I have been a parts purchaser. The internet has opened up the number of suppliers for the same part. It used to be limited to only a few big supply companies with a hold on the market and little outside competition. Today you could buy direct from the company that supplies your supplier.

Remember that not all shops want you to bring your own parts. If you buy your own parts, be prepared to install your own parts.

Get your Part Numbers

Using a part number is the best way to search for parts. You will need to look up your part numbers in a shop manual, or an online manual. Many car manufactures have put their parts catalogs online. The catalog may be a little hard to navigate at first but the more you use it the better you will get. The link below will take you to a free online parts catalog supplier. They offer numerous car makes and models.

Once you are in the catalog look for your year and model. Look up the subsystem you are working on. The exploded pictures will show you all the parts. The part numbers will be in the text below the picture. Keep working till you have a complete list of part numbers that you need for the repair.

You Have a list, What’s Next

It used to be easy to run my part numbers through my main suppliers, do a quick comparison and buy the part. Now you have to Google the part number, check it on Amazon, scourer eBay or look at multiple online stores. How you type the part number in an open search will matter. Using spaces, no spaces, dots or dashes between the number groups will affect the search results. Try different combinations if your part is not showing up. Often using the image search will help you find the part. Remember to confirm the part fits your model and year even when using a part number.

Buying Cap Parts
Note Pad, Pens and a Calculator ready to shop for parts

You will find out quickly if the part is still available new. If it is NLA, (No Longer Available), you will have to shop for a used part. Shopping for Used or NOS, (new old stock), parts can be a time-consuming process. It is best to divide your list into new parts and no longer available parts.

Original Equipment Manufacturer Car Parts

You will be presented with an array of options for the part you are looking for. If there is a choice I go for O.E.M first. The Original Equipment Manufacturer made the part for the car manufacturer. A car manufacturer does not make every part so many assemblies are made by other companies under the car brand.  If you see a part listed as O.E Quality it really means it is Aftermarket and not made by the original manufacturer.

The O.E.M part may often be a lot cheaper than a Genuine part and be exactly the same part. The difference may only be the vehicle manufacturer’s logo is not stamped on the part. O.E.M will fit the best with no questions of quality. It is good to note that the OE manufacturers can change over time so the finishes may vary slightly.

Aftermarket parts

The aftermarket part may be one of your choices or your only choice. Sometimes parts are no longer made by an OE company. When comparing an aftermarket part to an OEM part the biggest difference can be the price. It can be an extreme price diffence. This is where your experience with the manufacture will help you decide. If you have had good luck with the aftermarket manufacturer you will be more willing to take the savings over an OEM part.

Often you do not have a choice and the aftermarket part is the only replacement part available. You can read reviews on the part and it will help you understand any shortcomings the aftermarket part may have. My theory is if it is not a life or death part, like brake pads. And it does not take hours of labor to install the part, like a main bearing set. Then why not take the savings and try the aftermarket part.

Car Parts comparison
Showing the same part comparing after market to Genuine

Differences in Parts

Remember that sometimes there are big differences between the aftermarket and the OEM or original part. It may be that they choose to make the aftermarket part out of completely different materials. However, the part may not last as long or fit as well. It may look a lot different than the part you are replacing. If this is a problem for you do not pick the aftermarket part.

If there is an overwhelming amount of negative reviews about an aftermarket part, I would take heed. We have seen aftermarket parts that were reverse engineered from old parts and not a design drawing. Sometimes the part will be already out of specifications because an old used part was measured. Not all aftermarket manufacturers are out to get you. Most times they want to supply a good part at a good price.

Genuine Car Parts

When the part is critical, labor intesive to replace or there is no access to OEM the genuine part is best. Genuine parts have been designed by the car manufacturer to fit your car. Even genuine parts can have a range of pricing since the internet has forced all sellers to be more competitive. Genuine is supposed to be the best part but on occasion the genuine part that is supplied is the aftermarket part. When the original manufacturer ceases to make the part, the car company must look for a new supplier. At first there can be quality issues with the new parts supplied. Most car brands will work through these problems until the part can truly be called Genuine. Luckily genuine parts come with a warranty.

Used, NOS and NLA Car Parts

Looking for used parts, NLA (No Longer Available) or NOS (New Old Stock) parts, can be time-consuming. There is also the possibility of getting a faulty part that is worn out or broken. If you need a used assembly understand the part first. You should do more research on the part before purchasing. What are the wear limits? Is the part repairable? You should know what could be missing.

Often an image search is the best way to start looking for the parts you can no longer buy new. You could also try less mainstream options like Craigslist. Calling auto dismantlers may open your search area. Even asking on a car forum if the part still eludes you.

Local Swap Meet

Once you get a line on a used part, request a lot of photos. If you get an assembly with a missing irreplaceable part, it’s a piece of junk. Take a CIS fuel head, if the center piston is missing it is useless. Or you could get a used ignition distributor that is missing key components inside. Most often there are no returns on private sales of used parts.

You can also look for a used part in person by going to a swap meet.  Going to a local swap meet is a nice way to spend a morning even if you don’t find the part you are looking for. Knowing what the going rate is for the part before you head out is essential. A lot of people can over value an old part. Just keep looking if it is not the right price.

Consolidating an order

You will have to fill a few shopping carts to compare the overall pricing including shipping and handling charges. Pick a few suppliers to comparison shop. If a part is unique to one supplier try the other parts on your list to keep any shipping charges from adding up. Keeping a spread sheet on your parts will help you compare prices. A spread sheet will also make sure you order everything and don’t lose track of where the parts are coming from.

Buying parts

Buying parts is a big part of any automotive job with hours spent researching and hunting down the parts.  The older and rarer the car the more time it can take. This is time well spent if you are working on your own car. You can spend the time to find the best part for the best price. If you are a mechanic in a shop doing the job it can be harder to get paid for all the time spent looking for harder to find parts. Many owners expect the hours spent shopping for parts to be mostly unbillable hours.

You will learn a lot about the parts you are looking for in a short time on the internet. Good luck, and happy shopping.


12 thoughts on “How to Buy Car Parts On-Line. Things have changed!”

  1. Now I see why you got out of the parts business. The difference was your service.

    1. Thank you for your comment Bert. It was not a problem adapting to the new parts market, more that it is time to pass on the skills. Teaching is more of a passion and we are happy to show how to work with all sorts of car parts, Genuine, OEM and aftermarket when need be. Sarah

  2. Great article Sarah. My experience with Porsche has been to just get genuine parts. They are expensive, but any money I have ever saved buying non-genuine seemed to always be given back in time/frustration trying to get the fit right, and in a few cases get them to fit at all. Expensive to buy same part twice. Of course no choice with NLA.

    1. Thank you for your Comment Bert. Time is money. Porsche Classic is bringing back NLA numbers but it seems a little random how they choose what to bring back. Sarah

  3. What a great article to share. A great contribution especially for someone looking forward to buying parts. Thanks a lot for the post.

  4. Excellent article! That calculator in the get ready pic looks like it is on it’s last leg!! Terry.

  5. If anybody wants to install a new one, this is the most effective share, that will be very helpful for the best choice. Thanks a lot for the post.

  6. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
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