Need parts? When to buy new, used

No one has to tell you auto repairs are expensive. Computer-controlled electronics and lightweight alloy components may improve performance and fuel mileage, but they’re no bargain when it comes to replacing or repairing them.

Used auto parts facilities, however, have progressed just as far as the vehicles in their inventory. No longer referred to as wrecking yards or junk heaps, these recycling centres carry parts from vehicles as new as the current model year.

With automated inventory control systems, they can electronically search a continent-wide network of similar retailers to find parts. And the savings can be substantial. The average price for a used automotive part in good working order is about half the cost of a new one.

When it comes to an engine or transmission computer worth more than $1,000, the savings are huge. But when should you consider asking your service provider to get a used part for your vehicle?

First eliminate wearable items from your recycled parts shopping list. This includes things, like brake pads and shoes, engine drive belts, sparkplugs and wires, and filters of any description.

Common replacement parts such as steering linkages and suspension joints can also be axed, but not if they’re only available with a major component. For example, no service rep would suggest buying a ball joint as a used item if they’re available as a separate part, but if they only come attached to a control arm assembly worth several hundred dollars new, a good used one might be a viable alternative.

Electronics such as control computers, auto-climate controls and audio units make good choices for the used part aisle because they usually have no moving parts and no measurable lifespan.

A good rule of thumb: If the vehicle is over five years old and the part in question has no defined lifespan and no reasonably priced new or re-manufactured alternative, getting a quote on a used part is a smart idea.

Note: You’ll likely have to put up with a day’s delay in getting the job done (most recycled parts remain attached to their vehicles until the part is sold).

Check the Yellow Pages under Automobile Part and Supplies-Used and Rebuilt or type Used Auto Parts into your favourite web-browser search engine.

Brian Turner is a parts and service manager with more than 30 years experience.

Photograph by: THEO HEIMANN, AFP