There are two groups of people buying used car parts; the professionals, like mechanics and smash repairers, and the hobbyists or DIY mechanics. The professionals buy used parts all the time, and the amateurs probably do not. You might also be someone just trying to save money and time and putting your toes in the water for the first time.
Buying used car parts can be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t need to be. We will go through what you need to know beforehand, some of the places you can buy used parts, and what to watch out for and be aware of, so you can be as well-prepared as anybody.
Preparing yourself beforehand
There are several things everyone, professional mechanic or first-time hobbyist, needs to do before committing to buying any part, new or used:
Identify the problem or fault (to the best of your ability)
This is the first thing to do. If you are looking for replacement body panels because the car has been involved in an accident, that should be relatively straightforward. If the problem is mechanical, it might need some in-depth diagnosis to establish which parts, if any, have failed.
Having an OBD II code reader to read any fault codes might be very useful (for newer vehicles with an OBD II port), but a basic understanding of how a car works is arguably more important. An engine not starting could be a damaged starter motor or alternator, or something as easy to replace as a flat battery. Some parts might be replaced unnecessarily during the process, but if that can be avoided it will save time and money.
Vehicle Identification Number
This is the most important number you will need; your vehicle identification number (VIN) is unique to your car, and it will tell you far more information than a make, model, and build year (though this is important information as well).
The VIN is normally located on an identification plate in the engine bay (that will often include other information like paint colour codes, place of manufacture, and so on), but it can also be found elsewhere on the body like a lower corner of the windscreen or inside a door jamb. It can also be in your vehicle’s service manual.
This is the second-most important thing to find out. Parts can change over the length of a car model’s life, so just because it fits one model year doesn’t mean it will fit on another. Manufacturers often replace parts with improved versions, but this is often identified during the research process if a compatible and newer part is available.
Some parts require specific tools for removal and installation (like a special socket or a uniquely shaped spanner), but thanks to the internet and the widespread dissemination of information, it is easy to find that out. This isn’t common but something to be aware of.
Where to buy used parts
Armed with the above knowledge, it’s then a case of sourcing the parts that are required, and a few major options exist:
Wreckers and Auto Dismantlers
The used car parts market is dominated by wrecker yards, and the most sought-after parts are normally quickly removed from written-off cars and therefore readily available for most popular models.
A VIN, part number (or description of the part) is enough for most wreckers to identify what is being searched for. A lot of parts will be sold at a fixed price, but unusual or less-common parts like interior trims can sometimes be bartered down in price if you consider yourself a haggler.
There are myriad options here, with some services walking you through the entire process and others that leave all the hard work to you:
Foxlisted is a platform that allows people buying parts to search across an Australian wide network of parts sellers, both private and businesses. Potential users need to create an account and then input some information about the part required and the vehicle to narrow down the correct parts.
Gumtree has really taken over from the Trading Post. It is a platform that allows both businesses and private sellers to advertise parts that are for sale and its coverage
Facebook Marketplace can also be a useful place to search for car parts, but even better are the many vehicle-specific groups on the platform. It requires registration as a user which might deter some.
Vehicle internet forums used to be a wonderful place for owners and enthusiasts, and car parts were often sold and searched for. Facebook has taken a lot of that traffic, but many still exist and are worth the time to search if it is a unique or rare part.
Before COVID-19 and its social upheaval, swap meets and car boot sales played a big part in the unique and classic car parts world. Very hit-and-miss, but for owners of rare or vintage cars, they were often a worthwhile option if not the last resort.
What to watch out for
Buying used parts comes with a few more risks and caveats than buying new parts, but it shouldn’t rule them out either!
Warranty (or not)
If you’re buying parts privately, you will not get a warranty, and legal recourse will be unlikely if not impossible. However, if buying from a business a warranty ranging from 30 days to 12 months is normally offered.
Faulty or fake parts
This can be hard to ascertain (which is why most businesses offer a like-for-like replacement on most parts), but inspecting the part for any visible damage is a good start. Likewise, you might be sold a non-genuine part on the premise it is a genuine one; knowing the part number is one thing, but knowing the manufacturer of the part is also helpful.
Quality versus price
The adage “you get what you pay for” never rang truer than when buying used car parts: if someone is selling a part half the price of everyone else, it is probably for good reason (fake, faulty, stolen). Bargains can be had but they are hard to find, and often snapped up very quickly.
With some research, time, and awareness, buying used car parts can be a painless and worthwhile exercise. While there are some risks, even for the well-prepared, they can be minimised and the trade-off is money in your pocket.