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How To Buy New Auto Parts

Parts Buying the right auto Parts can be a challenge for even experienced mechanics. I've learned a few things in 10 years of working the Parts counter. No matter where you shop it can be a frustrating task. Don't let this keep you from doing your own maintenance; however, before you start any project you should:

Make sure you're up to the task.

If you don't know how to take off a wheel, you probably shouldn't try rebuilding your transmission. Buy a repair manual and read it. If you feel you can handle it, go for it. You'll have printed and illustrated directions on hand. A good counterman can offer advice as well. If it's too much, then start with a simpler task and familiarize yourself with auto repair. We all start there; don't feel dumb.

You decide to go for it. That's awesome. The first step is to:

KNOW WHAT KIND OF CAR YOU HAVE!

This seems pretty obvious. I assure you, it's not. Red is not a car manufacturer. It only takes a few minutes to get all the needed information about your car, and once it's done, it's done. Write down these things and put the list in your glove compartment:

  • Year, make, model, and submodel. An example is: 2002 Chevrolet 1500 Silverado LT.
  • Engine size. In the previous example, the options are 4.3L V-6, 4.8L V-8, or 5.3L V-8.
  • VIN code. This on your registration or in the lower driver side corner of the windshield.
  • Build date. This is on a sticker on the driver door jamb or on the inside edge of the door.

There are occasions when more information is needed, but this is a good starting point. Before you have the car in a million pieces, you should:

Call the Parts store for information.

Avoid frustration and repeated trips by knowing what information is necessary. Tell them what your vehicle is and what you're doing. If you're doing a brake job, you may need to know the size of the rotors or if the car has Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS). There is a reason your counterman asks several specific questions, and having the answers helps you get what you need. Also, you can know for sure the items you need are in stock or need to be ordered.

You've got the right part now, but it helps to:

Buy "just in case" items.

You can always return things you don't use. The repair manual will show items you might need, and a good counterperson can recommend related items. Save time by having pads, rotors, hardware, and grease on hand for a disc brake job, for example. You don't know what's worn out until you start disassembly. Failure to replace the related items can cause premature wear of your new parts. If you have everything there, you don't need to stop working and go back to the store. One important final thought is:

Don't wait until the last minute to start.

Remember, it might take a day or two if you have to order parts. Parts for uncommon vehicles can often take longer. Also, mistakes happen. Allow enough time to rectify them.

Buying auto parts can be frustrating -- but it doesn't have to be. This basic guide will help a newcomer learn the ropes of auto parts shopping. like anything, it gets easier each time. Now go fix that annoying squeak and high-five yourself.


By Frank Coots - Frank is a 32 year old auto and agricultural mechanic in Southern Indiana. He served in Iraq as a soldier in the Indiana National Guard in 2008 as a guntruck driver and gunner. He spends his free time on his...  

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