Last updated May 4, 2020 by Craig Fitzgerald
You can save huge money on auto parts - including at well-known national parts retailers. Here is how to find cheap auto parts that will do the job.
We’ll go into what you can find at:
Where can I buy cheap new auto parts?
It wasn’t that long ago that you were completely at the mercy of one or two auto parts stores in your area when you needed parts for your car. Those days are long gone. Shipping is fast, easy and cheap and for a lot less than you’d spend at a traditional auto parts store, you can have a part shipped directly to your house in a matter of days, or less.
Let’s take a look at a frequently replaced part to get an idea of the price differences.
We want to research parts for a car that’s been around for a while and select a model that there are plenty of in the marketplace. A good example is the 2007 Toyota Camry. In 2007, Toyota sold a record 437,108 Camry models, so we should be able to find just about anything for that car from all of the major parts retailers. We’ll be evaluating prices for the four-cylinder model. Those cars will all have 100,000 miles plus by 2020, so they’ll be in need of some repair and replacement.
If you’re driving a 13-year-old car with some miles on it, chances are pretty good that your check engine light is on because of a faulty oxygen sensor. Specifically, we’re going to look at the narrow band downstream sensor from Denso, part number 234-4260, which is an exact replacement OEM part. There are several good aftermarket replacements that are cheaper, but for the purposes of this story, we’ll stick with OEM as much as possible.
Let’s take a look at how the prices stack up at the major brick-and-mortar and online retailers:
|Auto Parts Retailer||Retail Price||Discounted Price|
|AutoZone||$93.99||$83.99 with $10 off $50 or more with email registration|
|Advance||$89.99||$67.49 with email registration|
NA - 15% off only applies to orders over $125
AutoZone, Advance, O’Reilly and Pep Boys all have online stores as well as brick-and-mortar stores that are generally within a short driving distance of anyone reading this story. Yes, their prices are significantly higher, even when you apply the discount code that you’re offered the minute you visit the homepage of any of those retailers.
So if you’re after nothing more than a good bargain and have two days to wait for the part to arrive, the folks at CarID and especially Rock Auto have you covered. Rock Auto is the undisputed leader in online parts pricing. They don’t have the fanciest website, and they don’t have the huge marketing budgets of an AutoZone or an Advance Auto Parts, but they pass those savings directly on to you in almost every instance.
That’s not to say that the more familiar retailers are bad. They provide a lot of services for DIY auto mechanics. In the example of our Denso O2 sensor, AutoZone, Advance and O’Reilly all would either ship the part directly to us 2nd day for free or more conveniently, they had the parts available in-store, so we could pick them up, same day. There’s a value associated with that. Whether it’s $30 or more worth of value is up to you.
They also provide specialty tool rentals for free. If you need an O2 sensor socket, for example, with a credit card, Advance Auto Parts will give you a set of O2 sensor sockets. They’ll run the card for the full price, but when you return the undamaged tool, you get all your money back. It’s a great service that the online-only guys can’t compete with.
One note: Pep Boys was the only retailer that didn’t have the part at all. It had aftermarket replacements but did not have this particular Denso part anywhere in its catalog.
Where can I buy cheap used auto parts?
All of the major retailers and the newer online-only retailers are terrific for common replacement parts like brakes, shocks, struts, ball joints and the like. But what about things like the exterior mirror you cleaned off your car when you got too close to that mailbox last week? You’re not going to find something like that at a parts store.
Unfortunately, it’s also becoming more and more difficult to find a junkyard. Environmental regulations are making it more difficult for junkyards to operate, and the insurance liability of letting you wander around the yard with your toolbox is making the pick-your-part lots more difficult to find. Plus, you never knew if you’d be able to find the part you were looking for, or if you were just on a wild goose chase with every other dope in your area.
But thankfully, junkyards are getting more modernized, just like everything else. Instead of wandering around a yard, Car-Part.com works with junkyards to inventory and catalog auto parts and make them super easy to locate and ship to you with the help of a credit card.
Let’s take the same car -- a 2007 Toyota Camry -- and replace that passenger side mirror you cleaned off. Using Car-Part.com, you can set your region of the country, and with your zip code can sort the results by price or by distance from your location so you can save the shipping and drive to the yard to retrieve the part.
For our mirror, we selected a used, heated mirror located at a junkyard in New England and got dozens of results from our area. Prices ranged from $40 to $150, depending on the condition. Here’s a sample of the results:
|A-1 Used Auto Parts - Framingham||
|LKQ - Cumberland RI||$76|
|Standard Auto Wrecking - Worcester MA||
|Linder's - Worcester MA||$106|
|Five Star Auto Salvage - Smithfield RI||$50|
Here’s something to consider, though: The price may not be the only thing that makes a used part a better deal. For example, if one of those mirrors matched the color of the Camry we were driving, we’d probably happily pay the $106 for it, rather than having to either have it resprayed in the correct color or driving around with one brown mirror like a schnook.
Shipping can also make a difference. If the more expensive mirror is close by, it could be a better deal just to swing by and pick it up the same day.
Q: How are auto parts stores really that different from each other?
A: Each auto parts store has its own strengths and weaknesses. NAPA, for example, is way more likely to have someone behind the counter who has actually worked on a car before and knows a bit about what they’re talking about, so you’re probably less likely to go home with the wrong part. On the other hand, it’s going to be the most expensive option available, and their stores often aren’t open past noon on Saturday, or at all on Sunday. So if you know the part number, and don’t need advice on anything more complicated than which air freshener smells better, AutoZone, Advance or Pep Boys can be a better choice.
Q: Do the employees know their stuff?
A: In general, no. There’s an entire class of memes about how little the people behind the counter at AutoZone know about cars.
Q: Are more expensive parts better?
A: That really depends. The same part from a different retailer with a higher price tag isn’t better. But some cars are more sensitive to certain parts than others. For example, if you need to replace an O2 sensor in a TJ-era Jeep Wrangler if you purchase anything but the NTK brand sensor -- which is an aftermarket replacement -- you’re going to be doing it once ever six months until you die.
Q: Are store loyalty programs any good?
A: They’re ok, but they’re not worth driving across town for if a closer store has a part at a better price. We’ve got loyalty points at half the auto parts stores in town, and none of them seem to lower the price of the goods we’re purchasing for one reason or another.
Q: Do part instructions tell me what tool to use?
A: No. If you’re doing it yourself, your absolute best resource is YouTube. We’re from the Chilton Manual era of DIY auto mechanics, and those resources were really helpful, but seeing someone do something on YouTube before you have to go out and do it in your cold, dark driveway gives you a lot of confidence before you even begin to turn a wrench. It can also wave you off of doing a job because it’s too complicated.
Q: How do I dispose of old parts?
A: Depending on the material, a lot of parts can be recycled. Metal parts like brake rotors and calipers can be tossed in a scrap metal dumpster if your town’s recycling center has one. Plastic parts that have recycling symbols on them can be appropriately recycled. Oil can be returned to the store from where it was purchased.
Q: What are return or exchange policies like for auto parts?
A: You won’t have any problem returning most parts with a receipt. AutoZone’s return policy is typical: 90 days with a receipt, no problem. It used to be that an auto parts store would not accept a return on a part like a starter or an alternator, but that appears to be a policy that went the way of the dinosaur.
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