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How To Buy Parts Without Losing Your Shirt

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Once the diagnosis has been done and you know what the problem is (hopefully it's just one problem), you can begin getting the parts you need to fix things. Surprisingly, although the primary motivator for do-it-yourself mechanics is often cost savings, many DIY mechanics aren't very good at buying parts at the best price. It's one of those "the little things add up" paradigms.

Today is the Age of the Internet, so many of us are buying our parts online now, but don't forget about the local parts store. Small, independent stores (even those that are affiliated with a chain) are often the best place to go to get a part. Why? Because the price may not be the lowest, but the service and knowledge of those behind the counter will likely be far, far higher than you'll get at the local box store. The knowledge base of these people can be amazing.

Before you buy anything, though, verify that your part number is correct and that it will, in fact, fit your vehicle. The best way to do this? Call the dealership's parts department or the national parts number for your make. Further, a dealership has information that may not be available generally. Things like whether swapping a specific part requires other service like ECM resets or the changing of a fuse or replacement of another part. Most dealerships are at least happy to give you parts information because they'll assume you're coming to them to buy it. Play along with this and you can get the rest of the info you might need as well.

A great resource is Car-Part.com, which has a thorough database of used auto parts that you can find by location. Hits will range from eBay auctions to Craigslist ads to local junkyards. Parts being sold online will have estimated shipping times as well. Because, well, sometimes you just can't wait. Be aware that Craigslist and, for the most part, eBay are hit-and-miss. You may not get what you expected and you may not get it as fast as you'd like. So use with caution.

At junk yards and used parts stores, feel free to haggle. If you're honest and work for the best price, the seller is likely to help you out. If you try to be deceptive and they find out, you'll probably find yourself with no deal at all. So be honest.

If you're buying something rare (hard to find) or expensive, do it in person. Not only does this lower the scam potential, but it means you can verify that the part is what you think it is before you actually buy it.

All of these are ways to save money. None of them involve buying the part from the dealership. That should always be your last resort, but there are caveats even to that time-honored rule. If the part is very hard to find, if it's exclusive to the dealership (body parts are often this way), or if it's part of a warranty repair, then you're probably going to have to go through the dealership. If you're friendly with your local dealership, though, you can often get "friends and family" discounts, which will help.