- 5 Min Read
- By: Scott Drozd
The Ultimate Guide to Buying Car Parts Online
When your car needs repairs buying car parts online can save you a lot of time and money. Buying car parts online has significant advantages over traditional brick and mortar stores like Napa and Auto Zone, with the largest advantages being a much larger selection and much lower prices. Unfortunately, there are some risks involved when buying parts online. We've put together this comprehensive guide to make sure you find and choose the correct car parts when you shop online.
About Auto Parts Online
Automotive replacement parts are complex; each part has very specific vehicle fitment attributes, such as vehicle year, make, model, engine size, engine designation, 2 door, 4 door, coupe, convertible, automatic, manual, etc. These vehicle attributes are the main component driving the year, make, and model navigation as well as faceted search on the automotive website you are shopping on. If the automotive retailer doesn’t have their vehicle databases set up properly there's a high likelihood that you will be directed to an incorrect replacement part. The only way to ensure you receive the proper part for your car is to take the time yourself to determine what’s wrong with your car, research the proper replacement part numbers for your vehicle, and do your due diligence on the online retailer that you decide to purchase from.
Prepare in Advance
Diagnose your vehicle and symptoms by visiting and participating in forums, talking to friends and mechanics, as well as using scanner tools to get fault codes. An OBD scanner will give you access to the status of the various vehicle sub-systems and the fault codes. With some basic research online, you can get specific information on trouble codes: troubleshooting tips, symptoms, and possible solutions.
You can avoid incorrect purchases by visiting an online OEM parts catalog or ETK (German: spare parts catalog) to get the specific part numbers you need before ordering parts online. Online OEM parts catalogs contain information for all parts, OEM numbers, and approximate part prices. The parts are grouped into diagrams and diagrams are grouped into categories and subcategories. They also help you identify your model and production date based on your VIN number. Here is a list of online ETK’s for European and Asian Import Vehicles. A good online auto parts retailer will be able to cross reference OEM numbers to ensure you are getting the correct replacement part.
Set Realistic Delivery Expectations
Give yourself some time and don’t schedule a repair for the same day you think that the parts should arrive; there's always a chance that you could order the wrong part or seller ship you. Unexpected shipping delays happen as well so give yourself an appropriate buffer of a couple days from when you expect to receive the replacement parts to when the repair is scheduled.
Understanding Auto Part Acronyms
Replacement automotive parts are most often categorized by either who made them or how they are sold to you. Becoming familiar with these acronyms can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, especially when shopping online. Choosing the right quality parts and appropriate brands will also help the overall safety and performance of your vehicle.
Common Replacement Part Acronyms:
Genuine: Genuine replacement parts come in Genuine packaging, plain and simple. If it’s not in a Genuine box, or is missing the vehicle manufacturers stamp on it, it is not considered a Genuine Part. Keep in mind, the vehicle manufacturer does not actually manufacture these parts; they are subcontracted to companies that manufacture the specific product. The company that manufactures the particular part is called the Original Equipment Manufacturer. Genuine BMW and Genuine Volvo are examples of Genuine Replacement Parts
OEM: OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. It designates a replacement part made by the manufacturer of the original part. It is essentially the same product as a Genuine part, however the manufacturer has sold the product in their own packaging instead of packing it under the vehicle manufacturers nameplate. Bosch, Lemforder, and Aisin are examples of Original Equipment Manufacturers.
Aftermarket: An aftermarket part is manufactured by a company that has never been contracted by a major car maker to be their Original Equipment manufacturer. Although the company has never been contracted by a major auto maker, the parts are made to fit and perform as well as the OEM since they are generally produced with the same materials and machinery.
Have a Quality & Brand Strategy
There’s always a risk of inferior quality goods whenever you purchase something that's inexpensive and not OEM. Here are our general guidelines for purchasing parts online. There are three categories of parts:
Category A - High Risk: If part fails it could potentially cause catastrophic damage to life or limb. These parts would include steering, suspension, brakes components. For category A we always recommend Genuine or OEM, or a brand that has the highest reputation and good reviews from other consumers.
Category B - Medium Risk: If part fails it could potentially damage vehicle, but not life or limb. These parts would include engine components, gaskets, timing parts, etc. For category B we always recommend Genuine and OEM, but you can be flexible with some aftermarket variations depending on budget and function on the car.
Category C - Low Risk: If part fails it would most likely not cause damage to the vehicle. These parts would include lights, exterior weather-stripping, relays, some rubber pieces, etc. Although we still like OEM and Genuine wherever you can afford it, you have the most flexibility with Category C. You can try aftermarket replacement parts with little risk to the vehicle, but you may spend additional hours of labor if the aftermarket parts don’t fit right, or they fail and they need to be replaced and reinstalled.
Choosing the Right Online Parts Store
Reviews and Complaints – You can easily gauge the reputation of an online retailer by going to Google and searching the retailers name + complaints. In additional, respectable retailers will have ratings with Google Reviews, Reseller Ratings, or Trust Pilot. Only choose an online retailer that has a stellar reputation.
Customer Service & Support – It’s critical to evaluate the level of customer service and support before choosing an online parts retailer. A reputable online seller will provide multiple ways to contact the company such as phone, email, live chat, and social – but also some type of free technical support before and after the transaction. Online retailers that outsource their call center lack proper technical support for products and customer service, avoid them at all costs. The best call centers are in-house and staffed with well-trained sales and service personnel that well rounded automotive experience. The best way to evaluate is simply call the toll free number and start asking questions before you decide to make a purchase.
Return Policy – Obviously the more flexibility the better, especially due to the nature of auto parts and specific fitment requirements. There will be a good chance you will have to return a part at some point in time if you shop for replacement parts online. Most return policies are stated in the footer of the website. Average return or exchange policies are somewhere between 60-90 days. Avoid sellers who have return policies of fewer than 30 days. Lifetime guarantees and unlimited returns are the best, but it is extremely rare to find an online retailer with this type of policy.
Clarify of Product Listing – Does the item have a clear picture, good description, OEM reference numbers, and specifies brand? Stick with online retailers that put a heavy emphasis on the quality of their product descriptions.
Quality of Catalog & Website – When navigating an online retailer’s website, pay particular attention to the speed and the ease of use of the navigation as well as the amount of products that they offer. You want to avoid online parts retailers that list every part imaginable. With auto parts, more is not always better. Higher quality online retailers will research the best replacement brands and limit the selection to 3-5 brands for any one particular part. If you’re searching for brake pads and the retailer gives you hundreds of options for pads for your specific vehicle, chances are they haven’t put much thought or effort into what specific products they offer on their website.
Quality of Products: With auto parts, quality is at the forefront of all purchase decisions so stick with online retailers that have a stronger focus on OEM and Genuine products. If the catalog is filled with off brands, generic “aftermarket”, or doesn’t list specific brands at all, we would recommend you avoid.
All of these tips and guidelines are here for you to have a better experience when purchasing the correct part you need, but the most important thing to remember is to use common sense. If a website doesn't feel right or the price is just too good to be true, then chances are, you're right. It's important to trust the company you are going to purchase your replacement part from and make sure that they have the knowledge and your best interest in mind before you go any further. Here, at FCP, this is something we've taken as a priority since day one.
About The Author: Scott Drozd