Sooner or later, especially if you drive an older car or old-timer, you’ll have to buy used car parts.
You’ll encounter a situation where some parts are hard or impossible to find new.
When and if this happens, this article should help you buy used car parts the right way and in your favor.
If you’re not in the mood for reading, you have a video at the end of this article or on our YouTube channel.
WHEN SHOULD YOU BUY USED CAR PARTS?
Here are some of the most common situations:
THE REPAIR BUDGET IS TIGHT
Used parts are cheaper than new ones, sometimes multiple times over.
If you have a tight budget for fixing the car, then buying a used part is a very plausible option.
When the part is OK and can still serve for some time, the price difference may well mean that you can solve the problem with the money you have.
A key factor with this option is to find a good part. Otherwise, it may turn out to be more expensive than buying a new one. Not to mention the safety factor.
YOU DRIVE AN OLDER CAR
When you drive a ten, fifteen, or twenty-year-old car, heavily investing in repair often doesn’t seem like a good idea.
When problems start with certain systems on the car (or parts of them), they often cost a lot of money to fix even with older cars.
These would be systems like fuel injection, electronic components, the dual mass flywheel, and else.
In these cases, you should seriously consider buying a used part, but again not at all cost and not compromising safety.
If the part is still in good condition, from a trusted source, and can safely serve for some time, why not buy it? Especially if you don’t drive the car that much.
YOU CAN’T FIND A NEW PART
Sometimes you simply won’t be able to find the part. Although there’s an abundance of parts on the market in almost all countries, here and there, you might encounter this problem.
Older cars and especially old timers are susceptible to this problem.
With them, used parts are, oftentimes, the only option. Sometimes even a combination of the part you have with the used one is necessary.
THE NEW PART IS WORSE THAN THE USED ONE
To be honest, sometimes the new part has lower quality than the used one.
A good example of this is OEM parts that are originally installed on the car, from the factory, as opposed to certain aftermarket parts.
Oftentimes the original, factory part, although used, will outlive the new part.
So, if you doubt the aftermarket part, it seems low-quality and it obviously won’t last, seriously consider buying a used one.
It may well serve better and longer.
WHERE TO BUY USED CAR PARTS?
In most cases, you’ll encounter these possibilities:
JUNKYARDS OR SALVAGE YARDS
Junkyards, also known as salvage yards (which is the better and more accurate expression) are perhaps the best option if you want to buy used car parts.
A good salvage yard is literally a gold mine for finding the parts you need.
Especially if the salvage yard is well-organized. This implies that they have some sort of filter for separating the junk from real functioning car parts.
With these, you essentially visit a sort of shopping mall where you can both easily get the part you need and one that actually works.
Another option for salvage yards that you should be prepared for is that you’ll have to get the part yourself. This means you’ll have to bring some tools or maybe some helping hands in order to retrieve the part. This isn’t often but don’t be surprised if you encounter this.
Besides this, have in mind that lots of salvage yards sell parts only for certain car brands so you may have to visit a couple of them.
DEALERSHIPS FOR USED PARTS
In lots of countries, you have companies that dabble exclusively in used car parts.
This is one step further from a salvage yard and offers the possibility of buying used parts just like new ones.
In these companies or stores the parts are (in most cases) cleaned up, properly stored, and in a way cataloged to be easily found.
If you have this option in your country, I would highly recommend it, especially if the company has a good reputation behind it.
Fleamarkets will always be a popular place to visit to buy car parts. Especially if you drive a rare car or oldtimer.
You wouldn’t believe the parts, accessories, and rarities you can find there.
Sometimes fleamarkets are the only places you can find certain parts and if not available anywhere, it’s certainly worth the check.
One more great thing about flea markets, they’re useful and fun to visit even if you don’t need any parts.
BUYING USED PARTS ONLINE
Of course, there is an online option. Almost every country has some sort of popular platform for this.
Buying online is OK but regarding car parts, especially used ones, be cautious and look twice at what you’re buying.
Some ads may not be accurate for various reasons. The most common misunderstandings are regarding the car type and model, is the part actually functional, and whether it really matches your needs.
For instance, one missing pin in a connector may mean the difference between success and a wrong part although it looks identical.
A good preventive measure is to always inform yourself before you press the „pay“ button.
Don’t hesitate to call the seller and ask about the part. Trust me, that one conversation is oftentimes enough to tell you if should you buy the part or not.
Whatever of these options you choose, there is one golden rule. Make sure you can return the used part if it isn’t a match or it doesn’t work.
Do not buy anything you can’t return unless you’re one hundred percent sure that it works and that it’s a match.
If you can’t return it, get your money back or get a replacement part, best avoid the purchase altogether. There’s a good chance that you may end up buying a piece of junk.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD USED CAR PART?
There are a couple of things you should check before you buy the used part and this highly depends on what you’re buying.
The rough outline would be:
LOOK OUT FOR SIGNS OF DAMAGE
Any sign of cracks, chips, soot, tearings, rust, or other physical damage should raise the alarm. A couple of scratches here and there (like from tools when taking the part off) are OK. Otherwise, you should perhaps skip it.
Know that anyone who is serious and benevolent in selling used parts will already see this damage, consider it as junk and it won’t even get to the shelf.
CHECK THAT THE PART MATCHES
Take a good look at the part you’re buying. Is it visually the same, does it have the same dimensions, number of connections, number of holes, are the threads intact, and else.
Here you have another golden rule when buying used car parts: bring the old part with you.
When you do this, you can make a good and complete comparison on site which is unmatched.
You can also take a look if there’s a number stamped on the part. If it’s a match with the part you have, then you’re surely on the right track.
ASK WHERE THE PART CAME FROM
It won’t hurt to ask where the part came from. For instance, if it came from a fairly new, low-mileage car that’s had an accident (which is a common situation), then you might have hit the jackpot.
Those kinds of parts are lots of times, as good as new, or even better.
On the other hand, if you buy a part that’s been in the salvage yard for months, in rain, snow, sun, or else you can easily end up buying a piece of junk.
So, wherever you choose to buy, ask this question, it won’t hurt. On the contrary, anyone selling should know and be happy to give this information.
Regarding this part of the topic, I must mention that you shouldn’t be too picky, especially regarding aesthetics.
You’re not buying a new part after all. The most important matter is that the part matches and that it’s functional in the long run.
NEVER MISS ON A GOOD BARGAIN
One of the privileges of buying used car parts is that you can bargain.
Not always, but in many situations asking for a discount is common and expected.
Don’t hesitate to ask in situations where you’re spending a hefty sum of money, there is slight damage to the part that’s visible but tolerable, or there isn’t that much demand for the part.
When this is the case, lots of sellers will offer a discount on their own, just to make a sale.
Avoid being rude, but if you see a chance to ask the magic question: „for how much can this really be sold?“, don’t miss on it.
If you want to read more about how to strike a bargain (when buying a used car in this case), click here to read the article dedicated to that topic.
WHAT USED CAR PARTS YOU SHOULDN’T BUY?
Common sense answers this question but nevertheless, I will mention it since I’ve seen people do this for various reasons.
Do not buy used parts like oil filters, air filters, brake pads, brake shoes, tie rods, ball joints, wheel bearings, serpentine belts, etc.
All of these are expendable. In the majority of cases, new parts are available and pretty much affordable (even for older car models).
Simply buying them used doesn’t make sense both in terms of money and more importantly in terms of safety on the road.
This goes double and triple for parts of the brake system, steering system, vital parts of the engine, and else.
One more type of part that you should avoid buying as used, if possible, are electronic components, especially sensors.
These are highly sensitive and there’s a good chance that the used one you’re buying is the same or worse than the one you have.
Exceptions would be if it’s from a trusted source, like from a low mileage wrecked car. But even then compare the price to a new one before buying.
All the other parts like axles, housings, hubs, body panels, headlights, rear lamps, rearview mirrors, and many more are essentially OK to buy. Just make sure to check them before you purchase.
To be more precise: the best kind of used parts to buy are the ones that were made to last in the first place and don’t have lots (or any) sensitive parts. These are, in most cases safe to install and are long-lasting.
In the end, if you want to buy used car parts, you’ll have to pay more attention. It’s a bit tiresome but it’s for your own good.
Once more, do not compromise your safety for the sake of saving some money. Safety is first and if the used part doesn’t safely solve the repair, don’t buy it.
To be honest, nothing can replace a new, quality part. That’s definitely the way to go if you want a long-lasting and good repair.
Also, when buying new parts, you have a guarantee to some extent that the part will fit and work. Even if it doesn’t, you can return it and get your money back.
But sometimes that simply isn’t possible for various reasons and buying a used part is the only solution. Either that or park the car for an indefinite amount of time.
But a rather good thing about buying used car parts is that it offers a certain satisfaction.
It often involves travel, seeing new places, meeting new people, and seeing new things. Lots of times you find parts or things that you didn’t plan to buy but will need in the future which is awesome.
Sort of a sport and adventure if you will that doesn’t have to be an obligation but a pleasure.
Written by: Sibin Spasojevic
Former car technician, life-long car and DIY enthusiast, author for Despairrepair.com