Auto Parts Sourcing Guide

in Blog
Last Updated: 09 April 2018

For one reason or another you’ve decided to undertake a repair job on your car; it could be the soccer-mom minivan, the weekday station car, or the classic weekend road demon, but it needs parts and it needs them now.  The question is where to purchase them. The three options we’ll discuss in this article are:

  1. The Online Only/E-Commerce Giants like Amazon & Rock Auto,
  2. The Regional/Local Chain Auto Parts Store (AutoZone, O’Reilly, NAPA), and
  3. The Local Mom & Pop Auto Parts Store.

The Online Only/E-Commerce Giants: These are the “new school” places many car guys (and gals) gravitate to.

Pros: Price, availability, "to your door/from your door" delivery/return. Consumer ratings/comments about suppliers.  Frequent buyer discounts and credit card loyalty points help make this buying option favorable to users.  

Cons: There is a lag time between when you place your order and when you get the part (typically 1-5 days and you will pay for faster delivery).  Comprehensive information about a specific part on some e-commerce site is limited (e.g., pictures of the part, parts diagrams),.  The biggest problem in my experience with this source is that you can't visit the store (because there is no store, just warehouses and offices) with any concern you may have, anything from returning a wrong or broken part to purchasing an additional part needed to complete the job. You can't bring a failed part to to a parts counter to match it up with a new one to ensure the repair will go smoothly, nor can you forego a core charge (a charge for a rebuildable auto part used as a partial trade in for a new or rebuilt part) since the old part can't be returned on the spot (i.e., it has to shipped back).  No or little personal interaction with a knowledgeable parts person.


The Local/Bricks & Mortar Chain Store: This option gets you into a store where you can browse the aisles for items you may need to stock up on like fluids, hardware or tools.

Pros: Seeing a counterperson allows you to ask questions about the repair at hand and to discuss parts brand and pricing options. Seasoned personnel should also be able to recommend repair strategies like changing the water pump while tackling a timing belt replacement. Mailers to return customers as well as in-store flyers offer sale pricing & incentives.

Cons: The sales staff at these stores aren’t always highly trained parts professionals or very experienced, many have never worked in the automotive field at all. They are trained in parts inventory however, and are familiar with the brands of parts their store sells. It’s been my experience with these stores that if the computer doesn’t show a part will fit an application they won’t recommend it to you (e.g., replacing an Edelbrock carburetor with a Holley equivalent).

Advance Auto Parts AutoZoneoreillylogo287x62

Mom & Pop Auto Parts Stores: This is the favorite buying preference of the MotorMouth’s since we’ve worked in them, enjoy the instantaneous parts return/exchange and we still support the ones in our areas. These stores aren’t necessarily the prettiest, best laid out, or organized establishments, but you can get something in here that’s not always available at the other buying options, one-on-one customer service from highly trained (and sometimes experienced) personnel.

Pros: We call these “hard parts stores” because they typically stock a deeper level of parts than the chain stores; items like oil pumps, piston rings & carburetor rebuild kits to name just a few. The stores we frequent have another lost commodity, a full service machine shop where cylinder heads, engine blocks or brake components can be refurbished. Hand fabricated hydraulic and A/C hoses can be made in-house as well, making this the "King of Auto Parts Sourcing" option. These stores will sometimes lower prices to compete with local chain stores, but deal primarily with repair shops, so the only other way to get a discount is to get to know your counterperson, be a frequent buyer and hopefully they will throw you a bone by giving you "friend and family pricing".

Cons: There aren’t enough of them around anymore. Unfortunately, the chain stores & e-commerce sites have been making a big dent in the livelihood of the small shops, just as "big box" stores did to small town hardware and garden stores.  A potential downside could be poor customer service, but since these stores are highly competitive and usually the owner or manager is on site, you will probably get a better resolution than the other buying options.

Colvin Motor Parts


Notable Mentions: For the High Performance oriented and speed demons among us I’d be remiss to not mention dedicated suppliers like JEGS (online and one retail store in Ohio)  & Summit Racing (online and a few retail store locations). These retailers offer the best the aftermarket has to offer in the way of engine components, brake systems, bolt on goodies and safety equipment. Many people prefer to use parts from aftermarket suppliers for their higher performance, better build quality, and longer service life expectations…besides, they always include those cool decals for your toolbox. Frequent buyer and online discounts are often available.

JEGS sre logo

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