If your vehicle is not worth a great deal; money is tight; or you cannot get hold of spare parts in any other way, a good reliable scrapyard or dealer in used spares may be invaluable. It is kinder to the environment, too, to use recycled parts. It is important however you get the right part; and that it is in usable condition.
How to make sure you buy the right spare parts
Whilst many spares are standard across several different makes and models of car the opposite can be true as well so it is important first of all to make sure that you specify the exact make, model and year of your vehicle.
The first step is to write down your car's vehicle identification number, or VIN. This is usually fairly easy to find, and common locations are on the dashboard in front of the steering wheel (you should be to read it from outside the car) or inside the driver's door jamb.
A good spare parts dealer should be able to indentify the exact part you want using this.
You may be able to find a part number on the part itself. This may be difficult to find, particularly if there is accumulated oil and dirt, but it is a very useful identification tool if you are unsure of exactly what you need to buy.
Finding used parts
It is vital to only buy used spares from a reputable source. There are a number of spare parts stockists online, and it is a good idea to look at any reviews you can find of any companies you want to deal with. Some smaller stockists advertise on eBay and again it should be fairly easy to check their feedback. If it is largely negative or there is not a lot of it then you may want to move on to the next merchant.
Checking the quality
A good used part stockist should be able to give you some idea of the history of the spare part. You would particularly want to know if it has come from a car with a high mileage, or which has been involved in an accident.
You would also expect to have some form of guarantee of a refund or replacement if the part proves faulty. Bear in mind however that often you will have to actually fit it to find out whether or not it works; and very often delivery charges can exceed the value of the part itself. You should check what the provider's returns policy is; some will cover transport costs of defective units, and some will not.
Most stockists should guarantee the goods they sell for at least one month. As a good rule of thumb, the longer the guarantee is, the more likely it is that you are dealing with a reputable company that will not knowingly sell you anything which is defective.
Parts that you should not buy second-hand
Anything which has a limited life is best bought from new because there is little point in going to the trouble of buying and fitting something which has already deteriorated, and which is not likely to last very long.
Brake parts are typical examples of this. It is particularly important to make sure that these are up to standard because a failure could be catastrophic. Exhaust systems are not usually worth bothering with, although catalytic converters may well be.
Wiper blades should never be purchased second-hand. They're cheap enough to buy anyway, and a defective one could score your windscreen badly.
Many motorists try to save money by driving on part worn tyres. This can be a very dangerous practice. A tyre may have plenty of tread left on it but there may be repairs to it that are not visible. It may also be very old, and so the possibility of sudden failure if you were to hit a pothole or road debris could be high.
You rely upon the tyres for your own life and those of other people; buying second-hand tyres could be a gamble that cannot be justified.
Buying used spare parts may extend the life of a car which would otherwise be economical to repair, it could save you a lot of money if a new part was expensive, and you may even have no choice anyway if no spare parts are available. As ever, however, you need to make certain that whilst doing your bit for the environment by re-using parts that would otherwise be scrapped or even go into landfill, you do not by yourself a lot of trouble. Make certain that what you buy is exactly what you need, and be very careful about where you buy it from.