Pros and Cons of Buying Used Car Parts

Female mechanic repairing car engine at garage

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Buying auto parts can get expensive. There are times when a used auto part can be just as good as a new one, especially if you need it in a pinch and the auto parts store tells you it will be a week while they wait for the special order to arrive. But should you buy used car parts? Do you take a risk in quality if the parts have already been used or are they a great bargain? Where should you buy used car parts?

There are some cases when buying used parts makes sense, such as when you are fixing up a classic car and the parts are no longer manufactured. In that case, looking online may be your best option. You could also try a local swap meet. You may also want a used part if it's one that you can replace yourself and if you can confirm the part's quality just by viewing it.

Use Caution

Used car parts can be a lifesaver, but you have to be careful when shopping. A used auto part that doesn't work or doesn't fit doesn't do you much good. These tips will help you decide whether you should buy used auto parts.

What to Know

There are some general guidelines to help you buy used auto parts in any situation:

  • Know what you need. Be sure you know exactly what you want to buy before you shop. If possible, have the old part with you for comparison. Because used parts are often not returnable, you don't want to waste money on the wrong part. 
  • Ask questions. Don't worry about looking like a novice while you stand at the used auto parts counter. They deal with amateur mechanics all the time, and most guys will give you credit for fixing it yourself even if you don't look the part.
  • Be sure the part is returnable. Sometimes you'll end up with the wrong part no matter how careful you plan. Check to see that where you purchased the part from will exchange it or issue a refund.
  • Decide whether used is good for this repair. If you crack a tail light or break a motor mount, a used part is the perfect low-cost solution. Parts that wear out anyway like alternators, starters, and brake rotors should probably be purchased new.

Buying Parts at a Swap Meet

A unique place to buy used car parts is at a swap meet. These are often hosted for classic cars, so you can meet others who know the ins and outs of your vehicle. A swap meet is a gathering of car people who bring parts they don't need anymore to sell or trade for other parts. It can be a great place to get a deal but remember there is probably no return policy in this case. The same rules for buying used auto parts from a junkyard apply, with a few exceptions:

  • Lower cost. You can buy parts at a swap meet for much less than other places.
  • More options. Chances are there is more than one stack of parts with your gem in it. Find the part that looks solid for the best price. 

Buying Online

The fastest place to locate a hard to find or used part is online, and the fastest place online to find what you want is usually eBay, Craigslist, or a social media group. This can be a huge resource for locating parts that are no longer available (NLA) or parts that cost an arm and a leg when purchased new. Pay close attention to the seller's return policy and be sure the part is actually correct for your vehicle. Let common sense guide you and you'll save time and money buying used auto parts.