Used Auto Parts: Good Idea?

When Are Used Auto Parts OK?

Choose carefully and save money.
Used auto parts at the swap meet. photo mw

Buying parts can get expensive. There are times when a used auto part can be just as good as a new one, especially when your auto parts store tells you it will be a week while they wait for the special order to come in. 

Buying parts for classic cars can be a challenge, too, especially when that part has been NLA for some time. Looking online may be your best option. You could also try the local swap meet, for the next three years.


Used auto parts can be a lifesaver, but you have to be careful when shopping. A used auto part that doesn't work or doesn't fit doesn't do you much good. These tips will help you decide whether a used auto part is right for the job.

For quick reference, we've put together some lists of used auto parts and when it's a good time to use them:
Always OK to use
Sometimes OK to use
Never OK to use

In addition, there are some general guidelines to help you buy used auto pars in any situation.

  • Know what you need. Be sure you know exactly what you want to buy before you shop. If possible, have the old part with you for comparison.
  • Ask questions. Don't worry about looking like a novice while you stand at the used auto parts counter. They deal with amateur mechanics all the time, and most guys will give you credit for fixing it yourself even if don't look the part.
  • Be sure the part is returnable. Sometimes you'll end up with the wrong part no matter how careful you plan. Make sure they will exchange it for the right part if this happens.
  • Decide whether used is good for this repair. If you crack a tail light or break a motor mount, a used part is the perfect low-cost solution. Parts that wear out anyway like alternators, starters and brake rotors should probably be purchased new.

Swap Meets
A unique place to buy used parts is at the swap meet.

A swap meet is a gathering of car people who bring stuff they don't need anymore to sell or trade for other stuff. It can be a great place to get a deal, but remember there is probably no return policy in this case. The same rules for buying used auto parts from a junk yard apply, with a few exceptions:


  • Lower cost. You can buy parts at a swap meet for much less than pretty much anyplace else.
  • More options. Chances are there is more than one stack of parts with your gem in it. Find the part that looks solid for the best price. Often the guy with the shiny tent and cool outfit is selling the same stuff as the guy in cutoffs with a pile of parts in front of him. Who do you think will be cheaper?


These days the fastest place to locate a hard to find or used part is online, and the fastest place online to find what you want is usually eBay. This can be a huge resource for locating parts that are NLA (No Longer Available) or parts that cost an arm and a leg when new. Pay close attention to the seller's return policy and be sure the part is actually correct for your vehicle. Let common sense guide you and you'll save time and money buying used auto parts. Here are some good tips for buying used parts on eBay or other online marketplaces.