Last winter, I busted the passenger mirror off my 1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon. Inspection time has arrived again, and I needed to get it fixed. My local junkyard went out of business, so I did something I’ve never done before: I bought a used part online. Here’s a primer on how find parts for your car.
One of the things that’s hurt used parts suppliers online is an image of junkyards that probably needs some updating. I spent a lot of time running around junkyards as a kid, and they were universally disorganized and barely on this side of legal.
My vision of junkyards is stuck in 1985, when I went searching for parts for my 1976 Camaro. You took the parts off yourself and you negotiated the price at the garage out front. In those days, most of my transactions were with a guy standing in a grease pit under a Chevy C30 wrecker.
These days, most good auto recyclers are highly organized, computerized and legit. They have an accurate inventory system and pick cars clean before sending raw materials back to be recycled. Take a look in the video below to see how modern auto recyclers do business:
According to the Auto Recyclers Association, the auto recycling is a $22 billion business today. “Professional auto recyclers use computer and satellite communication systems that enable for direct inventory assessment as well as locate parts across town or across the continent by simply entering the appropriate data into their computer system,” says the Association. “This technology allows recyclers to maximize their inventories and provide quick and efficient service to their customers.”
Still, you might have some trepidation about buying used auto parts online. We’ve got a few things to think about before you do:
There are a couple of ways to find auto recyclers in your area. The most obvious is a Google search for “auto recycler in Your Town, USA.” Most of those recyclers are online and equipped with computerized inventory systems so you can locate the parts you need pretty easily.
The vast majority of auto recyclers are using a common online inventory system. For example, one of the local auto recyclers in my area — Smith Auto Recycling — has a system that allows you to search for parts using the year, make and model of your car.
Then it’s a matter of finding the part you want. I did a quick search for a rear door on my wagon and Smith Auto Recycling matched the part. The search result page includes information about the condition, the price and how to purchase it.
At that point, you can call the recycler directly, or click “Live Chat” if the recycler has that option.
We’re all for supporting local businesses, but not every auto recycler is going to have the part you’re looking for. The cool thing about the inventory system that Smith Auto Recycling uses is that it’s provided by Car-Part.com. My pal Jim O’Clair writes the Parts Interchange column for Hemmings Motor News — and provides an awesome list of recyclers specializing in vintage car parts in this article — has been a Car-Part.com devotee from the get-go. Car-Part.com has been online since 1998.
The beauty of Car-Part.com is that you can search for parts nationwide, but you can focus locally to avoid the shipping cost of larger parts. You select your year, make and model the same way you do with the local page in the Smith’s Auto Recycling example, but now you’re searching 160 million used parts all over the nation. Unless you’re searching for something completely obscure, you’re likely to find it with Car-Part.com.
Using Car-Part.com, I got a whole range of mirrors from local recyclers. The prices ranged anywhere from not listed to about $100, but I found a $50 mirror assembly from a Murray’s Auto Recycling in Londonderry, New Hampshire. I selected that one because the condition was listed as good, and the color even matched. The more information that a recycler puts in their listing, the better.
Paying For Your Part
When I found the mirror I was looking for, I called Murray’s directly. We spent five minutes on the phone. I paid for the part with a credit card. That’s a lot easier than roaming around a scrapyard hoping to find what I’m looking for.
Picking Up your Part
For bigger parts — rear differentials, engines, doors, etc. — the shipping would throw the whole price equation out the window, so you can pay for the part on the phone and then go pick it up locally.
If you buy parts this way, you’re not dealing with Amazon.com, so you’ve got to get some sense of trust before you decide whether to make the transaction. My five minute call with Murray’s led me to believe that I was dealing with a legitimately family operation. The yard has been in business since 1955, and they offered me a 60-day warranty on the part. Not much more you can expect out of an online transaction.
You can also try searching for a recycler on Yelp, or check reviews on Google.