By on April 29, 2008

cadillac-ranch.jpgLast year, I scored over $400 worth of auto supplies. All it cost me was sales tax, a few stamps and about thirty minutes of my time. It was a lot of good stuff too: 24 quarts of synthetic motor oil, six gallons of coolant and a seemingly endless amount of top quality car waxes and detail products. Heck, I was even able to get three different tool sets and free wipes once all my maintenance work was done! Unfortunately, for a frugal enthusiast like me, that was then and this is now.

The auto parts market has changed dramatically in the last year. As I reported previously, soaring commodity prices have increased demand for recycling (rather than resale). At the same time, the economic downturn has millions of American motorists hanging onto their cars longer, and buying used instead of new. Rising raw costs and increased demand has made it a seller’s market.

Thus far this year, I’ve scored nothing free. Zero, nilch, nada. Every once in a while I see a complete oil change for $6.99, a free brake ‘inspection’ (with the obligatory small print shop fee) and parts store tools that are still thankfully available for free rental. It’s not the end of the world, but inflation is becoming a real bastard on the finances! Everything costs money now. As enthusiasts we have to watch for the deals whenever they arise.

In my neck of the woods, six auto parts stores serve local pistonheads and repair shops: Advance Auto Parts, NAPA, Autozone, O’Reillys, Pep Boys, and arguably (cough! cough!) Wal-Mart. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses that I try to play off each other during the year.

For example, Advance often has the cheapest parts available. This makes it a favorite among auto repair facilities and cheapskates in my neck of the woods. For the ‘trader’ who likes to tinker during weekends, Advance is often a good source. However, the ‘keeper’ should only get those parts that have lifetime warranties. From my perspective, that means they should focus instead on the quality side of the equation. Which calls for some serious online cross-shopping.

NAPA offers higher quality parts at a price. From my experience, NAPA’s the ‘Target’ equivalent. If you’re the type who doesn’t want to pay a premium for dealer parts but still wants quality, NAPA may have the best offerings. Rarely will NAPA ever have a good deal on motor oil or detail products. They do however have great deals for those folks looking to keep their car driving like a premium product.

Autozone is good for oils and accessories. It’s the perfect cross-shopping alternative to NAPA and Advance. In my experience, they have the widest selection, and it’s not too difficult to find parts that are similar to the other two retailers. As with all big box retailer these days, many products are virtually identical. Even though the parts manufacturer’s name may be different, it may have indeed come from the very same [Chinese] factory. An online visit to all three of these retailers is always worth the while for TTACers on a budget.

O’Reilly’s offers the most free and cheap repair tools. When they’re overstocked, they also have the best sales. However, you have to visit their stores to find the deals. Last year I bought over $300 worth of auto parts for virtually nothing because I went through the trouble of looking through the coupon rack right by the entrance. A list of 40 products were given in one little note card. An hour later, I was stocked for virtually the entire year. O’Reilly’s also have one of the most diverse additive product offerings I’ve seen. 

Pep Boys and Wal-Mart are usually the cheap tire / cheap oil places. Pep Boys will have the $6.99 oil change deals and Wal-Mart offers oil changes for less than $20. Wal-Mart offers every day low prices while you have to search the Pep Boys Sunday circulars to get the right deals.

Watch out for hidden charges and miscellaneous fees. If you’re one of those that prefer to have someone else do the wrenching, make sure you know the total cost before you visit. Wal-Mart installs tires and changes your oil. Pep Boys will do that and install parts as well. In both instances, I would still prefer the services of a reputable independent mechanic. is another excellent source for factory parts. I suggest you visit the site before going the used/recycled route. Craigslist can be a Shangri-la for cheap parts, and EBay still offers plenty of good deals for those who are willing to wait a week.

In the today’s world of car parts, there's no such thing as a free quart of synthetic oil. It pays to look around and shop smart.

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29 Comments on “Negotiating Today’s Car Parts Mine Field...”

  • avatar

    “In the today’s world of car parts, there’s no such thing as a free quart of synthetic oil.”

    True, but I bought twelve quarts of Valvoline Synpower yesterday for $.99 each after rebate which is as good a deal as you will find now.

    Autozone is also good for free loaner specialty tools.

    Another tip on NAPA is that once a year they usually run a deep-discount filter sale which is a great time to stock up. Also, a AAA card gets you a 5%-10% discount at NAPA. For repair parts by NAPA w/AAA price is almost always lower than the local Kragen chain store unless Kragen has a coupon or rebate special on the item.

    For Volvo, Saab and BMW parts the best prices on new parts are often at The weak dollar seems to be having it’s effect though.

    I’m proud of my part-Scottish ancestry :).

  • avatar

    Pep Boys went out of business in my neck of the woods (Santa Barbara). They were worthless anyhow, staffed with clueless kids.

    We are down to only 3 or so stores now, all chains, and all worthless. The good ones are gone. So I have come to rely on the Internet to buy parts from a store in Phoenix.

  • avatar

    Ebay is the latest place I get parts. Got a accessory drive belt for 15 dollars delivered to my door, they are 30.00 everywhere. Brake pads and rotors, I can get better quality delivered with no sales tax. Liquids are out, but if your planning to do a timing belt job you can get good deals there.

  • avatar

    there’s some online car parts retailer that seems to have dozens of different sites selling the same stuff, identical inventory and prices but dozens of different URL’s. It makes searching for hard to find parts online a nightmare. Also they try to sneak in a large handling charge in addition to the clearly stated price and shipping. Not wanting to give them free publicity, but partstrain dot com is one of the front ends for this store.

    I’ve had good luck finding things at rockauto dot com however. I’ve also found that many dealerships will have online part catalogs. Again they all seem to use the same web store engine, but will each set their own discounts so some can be much cheaper than others.

  • avatar

    Everywhere I’ve ever lived has a locally-owned business that stocks parts for garages (and has a guy always running around in a beat-up small pickup delivering said parts). Often they have a very basic parts counter for retail sales. That is where you get good parts at almost wholesale prices. Find that place in your area!

    The chains are only good for cheap oil and consumables.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the Autozone rewards card!!!

    Since I only go there for oils/filters/wipers/Dorman crap/etc I quickly earn a $20 credit, which I use for specialty tools that I’ll rarely use. (but make me feel cool for needing them)Its a pretty good deal.

  • avatar

    Using search tools for finding parts is useless as virtually all the results send you to “link farms”, which is what “Tulsa” above is talking about. These sites are not really parts sellers, they are pay-per-click farms that front-end for a handful of sources.

    I live in a small town, so end up buying tools and parts either online, or from my local NAPA. The latter is easy and the folks behind the counter are friendly and knowledgeable. The former can be more difficult, especially when buying for a modern car. It is however a lifesaver when dealing with vintage car parts. What used to be a limited market of swap-meets is now a global 7/24 shopping center. It is easier to find parts for my 40 year old Jaguar than my 6 year old VW… go figure.


  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    Locally I have only Advance and NAPA. The guys at NAPA are definitely more knowledgeable and I would prefer to buy from them (especially for WIX filters.) But Advance is open late and on Sundays. That’s when I make most of my part runs.

  • avatar

    “Everything costs money now.” Oh, not everything. As George Olsen explained,

    “The moon belongs to ev’ryone –
    The best things in life are free.
    The stars belong to ev’ryone –
    They gleam there for you and me.
    The flowers in Spring,
    The robins that sing,
    The sunbeams that shine,
    They’re yours, they’re mine.
    And love belongs to ev’ryone –
    The best things in life are free.”

    Hmm…OK, I admit car parts aren’t on his list.

  • avatar

    Yes, using Google to find parts can be a pain because of the link farms gaming the system. Instead, I go to web sites and forums dedicated to my particular make, and even model, of car. They often have links to part sites. Or you can just ask on the forum for help.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    Good thing I stocked up on free Pennzoil Platinum last year. However, there are still “deals” out there…if you don’t mind rebate hassles. Checkers/Shucks/Kragen (CSK) always has $.49 Chevron Supreme; Joe’s Sporting Goods generally will have a Conoco/Phillips synethic blend (Super 76…also bottled as Kendall and Motocraft) for $.99.

    If you are a real penny pincher on oil, I guess BITOG could steer you to the best deals. Of course, you’ll have to wade through the old fart barber shop ambiance, but it may be worth it.

  • avatar

    After a series of incorrect parts ordered via the local FLAPS (friendly-local-auto-parts-stores) and a series of poor quality replacements from said stores I have done alot of hunting to find OEM parts online at a reasonable price.

    Recently I bought a radiator with a 12 month warranty from AutoHausAz. At 13 months it started leaking. The OEM that went out lasted 8 years and 140K miles. I could have gotten one of those for a reasonable price from an online OEM.

    Recently I ordered rear shocks, rear bearing seals, rear parking brake cables and a couple of other little things from a local FLAPS franchise store mentioned in the original article. The patient has 152K miles on it, original parts worn out – rusty too. After waiting a couple of days the parking brake cables that came were wrong. Started putting it together and something else was wrong. Couple more days waiting from a different store. Anyhow when it was all said and done could have sold me all the right parts at very nearly the same prices and it would be OEM parts!

    Well the OEM stuff lasted 10 years and 152K miles – why not. In the end I used their parking brake cables. I have used them before. Should have started there instead of ending there.

    FWIW our local Honda dealer sold me front brake pads for about $5 less than the FLAPS. Anti-freeze was about the same too. Sway bar links were cheaper than NAPA who at the time I checked were the only FLAPS that had the right parts for my Honda. Again the OEM parts lasted a huge amount of miles so their quality is fine with me.

    I worked at AdvanceAuto for about 6months in the evenings. Saw alot of the cheapest parts come back for warranty claims. False economy buying that cheap stuff. I certainly don’t want to do repairs twice. And the batteries – they were all the same, just different warranties and stickers.

    Get anything electrical you buy in those places tested before you head out the door. At the time alot of the alternators and ignition modules were DOA right off the shelf.

    Found a couple IDENTICAL items at NAPA for alot more. I’ll pay a little more to have knowledgable parts counter guys and certainly a little more for quality but in these cases it was $10 more for a $10 Chinese aux fuse panel and $5 more of a white box muffler (i.e. generic brand, prob imported).

  • avatar

    Steven Lang:

    “In the today’s world of car parts, there’s no such thing as a free quart of synthetic oil.”


    True, but I bought twelve quarts of Valvoline Synpower yesterday for $.99 each after rebate which is as good a deal as you will find now.

    The key word being “after rebate.” Mail In Rebate offers carry their own costs; not necessarily monetary:

    1. You must wait. Sometimes for 6 to 8 weeks or more.

    2. You must give them your name and address. Yes, they need that to write you a check. But they WANT that so that…

    3. They send you junk mail.

    For anybody like myself who has done as much as possible to stay OFF of mailing lists, MIR offers are out of the question.

    Therefore, for my own peace of mind, privacy, and partially decluttered sanity, I shop for the best price not including MIR offers.

    I wonder, does anybody else feel this way?

  • avatar


    Half the time I wonder 3 months later if I even got the rebate. I don’t have time or the motivation to track those %&#@%@ things and that is why there are things such as rebates. I’m sure there is a sizable number of people who buy for the rebate and never submit all the ^$&*@^@ paperwork!

    If they want my money then they need to have it as an instant rebate where I get the cash back at the register.

    Rebates are, to me, a scam. It relys on the consumer to forget to claim their rebate with a reasonable certainty that the consumer will indeed fail to do their part.

  • avatar

    Based on my last and on-going experience with Kragen, they will not be getting my business. I am still waiting 5 months later (and still getting the run around) for the rebate check on 6 quarts of synthetic motor oil. I’ll pretty much stick with Auto Zone and Walmart for fluids and the occasional part. I also use a local parts supplier, Franklin Auto Parts, for the difficult to find item. A little more expensive, but they have by far the largest selection, the most knowledgeable staff, and the Wix oil filters that I prefer.

  • avatar

    I get parts for my ’57 Pontiac from Carlos, in Havannah. He can make anything. And the dollar goes a loooooong way. Shipping is complicated, what with laundering through Canada, but it’s worth it.

    Just kidding!!!

  • avatar

    Re Zoom Zoom, several above

    YES! I avoid mail-in rebates–more because of the hassle than anything. They do that because they know half the people aren’t going to mail in for the rebate, or, if they don’t mail the rebate the first time someone mails in for it, the person will forget about it. Life’s too short.

  • avatar

    One of the few things I miss about turning wrenches for a living (besides having free access to a fully-equipped dealer shop) is cheap parts.

    The BMW place where I worked also owned a Lexus store (stuff for my then-wife’s SC300) and an Acura store (parts for my ’88 Integra). Because we had a common owner, I got the company dealer-cost-plus-10% employee discount. Plus they were right across the street, so it was easy to pick stuff up at lunch or after work.

    Oil was even a better deal. BMW shipped their warranty-mandated 5W-30 synthetic in quart bottles, so after filling the cars, we’d let the residue drain into leftover coolant bottles. Each “dead” quart yielded about 1/4-oz of oil. But when that dead quart is one of 7-8 per oil change, and one does 5-6 oil changes per day for 5 days per week…it adds up.

    For about 3 years, I *never* had to buy oil for any of my cars.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Those of you who look at the enthusiast sites that are specific to your model are definitely going about it the right way. In fact, I consider many of those sites (brickboard, TDIclub, benzforum, mercedesshop, markviii) the most informative out there.

    Let me be even more emphatic about it. If you want a ‘keeper’ car to run beautiful over the years, the enthusiast sites offer bar none the best ‘parts’ information source anywhere. Period

    There are worthwhile sites that are specific to a given part as well. is one of my favorites. I usually save about 50%, get the radiator delivered to my door, and I’ve never had a bad one yet. They even install it if you’re not ready for that type of work.

    Certain makes tend not to do well with discount auto parts. Volkswagen is probably the best example. I had a German fellow at one of the auctions who told me that nearly a quarter of his repairs consisted of removing defective parts store replacement parts with OEM equipment.

    Finally, one noteworthy source for determining whether it’s better to go to the junkyard or not is . They have a special section dedicated to it and I can personally attest to the accuracy of many of their findings. If you do that and go to, you’ll likely save hundreds off the repair costs of your vehicle.

    Hope this helps…

  • avatar

    The author here talks about a $6.99 oil change as a “deal.” I have spent the last 3 years working in the oil change industry and I can tell you that if you pay that for an oil change, you’re not getting a deal, you’re getting screwed. You are getting oil that doesn’t meet your car manufacturer’s standards. There are oil companies that specialize in “blending” oil to make it cheaper — this process actually involves removing critical additives like zinc, phosphorus, and detergents until the oil quality falls enough to meet low prices that a bulk oil buyer is willing to pay. You would be surprised if you found out how many quick lubes use these “special” blends, especially now that oil prices are so high. Another common scam is using brand name oils that don’t meet current API or ILSAC standards. Plenty of shops use brand-name oils, but in odd viscosities that aren’t designed for modern engines (10W30, 10W40, 15W40). These are usually cheaper than 5W30 or 5W20 oils because they aren’t designed to meet new car warranty requirements (yes, from brand name manufacturers).

    The bottom line is, when you get an oil change, ALWAYS use the recommended viscosity and ALWAYS use top quality oils with an API SM and/or ILSAC GF-4 rating. Yes, you will pay more for good oil, probably 25 dollars or more at a quick lube. In my shop I get yelled at by plenty of people who want me to give them a twelve dollar oil change. They all have cars that blow white smoke and sound like diesels.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    For yrs I have used STP oil fiters and Walmart Supertech 20w50. An oil change costs me about 11$ and takes me less than a 1/2 hr. Most of that time I am performing some other task as well. I change oil about every 5k miles and the car lasted 345k miles. The furthest I got into the engine was to pull the valve cover at 330k mostly due to curiosity. I use a lot of junk parts harvested from a parts car. It is very convienent and acts as a teaching aid too. 99% of the new parts, I order from various on line outlets.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Lots of good points…

    TVRboy, the $6.99 change is one you do yourself. A lot of the discount auto parts stores will sell you five quarts of oil and a filter for anywhere between $6.99 and $11.99 during the course of the year. They always use name brand oils that surpass current API or ILSAC standards.

    By the way, I’ve always believed in changing the oil when the engine is stone cold. I think quickie lube places can be fine but even with an oil change, I’ve either chosen to do it myself or gone to an independent shop that can more easily handle the process.

    By the way, Wal-Mart actually uses the cheapo recycled oil for their basic Supertech oil change. Supposedly it’s API certified but I’m not a fan of the overall thinness and cheapness of that oil at all. I just can’t see how it works as well as most other API certified brands if you keep it in there for 5k.

    One other thing… what the heck is the deal with Mobil 1? It used to be the ultimate oil out there but even they are finagling their way down the quality scale thanks to the new standards as to what a ‘full synthetic’ really is.

    AndyD what do you drive?

    Eric, what you’re saying is all too true. The best deals are usually for those who are closest to the action. I once bought a nine year old Subaru Impreza for $25 (no that’s not a typo) and sold it to a rally coordinator for Subaru for $1575. If I weren’t a habitual trader at this point, I would have loved to have kept it going just to see how many miles I could have got out of it. It only need a new battery, a shiftlock release, and a new paint job (prior owner had removed all the paint right up to the primer). 50,000 miles and one 3000+ road trip from Atlanta, and the thing is apparently still purring like a kitten.

  • avatar

    You guys are missing a serious point.

    The auto parts store experience stinks.

    I refuse to shop at AutoZone. No matter the time of day and day of the week, you can count on waiting in line for at least 15 minutes. Kudos to the person at AZ’s home office who figured out how to make a trip to the DMV seem like a welcomed experience.

    NAPA has all the charm of a warehouse located in a third world country. The employees appear as helpful too.

    Advance is the best of the bunch for buying fluids (i.e., oil, washer, brake, etc.). Of course, that is like saying you are King of the Dung Beetles; all of you are still standing in a pile of excrement.

    As to parts, I rely on H and A Honda. The shipping fees are less than the tax rate, and the OEM parts are cheaper than my local Honda dealer.

    Does anyone have experience or comments about using Amazon?

  • avatar

    NAPA isn’t perfect, nor 100% trustworthy.

    For a beloved Jetta GLI of mine, I tried some NAPA struts. They were the most terrible mis-match in terms of ride and handling I’ve ever seen. Disgusting. They were returned immediately.

  • avatar

    Steven Lang :
    April 29th, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    By the way, I’ve always believed in changing the oil when the engine is stone cold. I think quickie lube places can be fine but even with an oil change, I’ve either chosen to do it myself or gone to an independent shop that can more easily handle the process.

    The owner’s manual and/or shop manual for every car that I’ve owned has always recommended change the oil after the engine is warm. I usually just put the catch basin under the oil pan, unscrew the plug, take off the oil cap up top, and walk away to do something else for 30 minutes or so while the engine thoroughly drains.

    As far as quickie lube places, I don’t trust them. The people that work at them are by necessity (low pay) very low skilled workers. There are the exceptions, but they are exceptions. Quickie Lube places are also notorious for the hard sell of “full service” packages, transmission flushes, and blinker fluid changes ;-). My limited experience with them was seeing the cheapo oil filter they used on my wife’s car the last time she used one. The thing was at least 1 inch shorter than the Wix filter I bought at the friendly local auto parts store (flaps). After looking at the size of the filters for the regular 5.0 and the V6 engines for the ’95 Mustang, it was obvious that they had used the oil filter for the regular 5.0 not the high output 5.0 that came in the Cobra, about a $2 difference in price at the parts store. Besides, changing your oil also gives you a chance to look at the suspension, hoses, and cv boots while your at it. Of course, it also gives you a chance to bond with your car.

  • avatar

    Great story and great feedback!

  • avatar

    Couple of comments from someone who worked in the auto parts business (both dealer and aftermarket) for dozens of years…

    NAPA stores are often independently owned and operated. Staff quality will vary as a result of how good the owner is. My local NAPA is excellent. The AutoZone is a vast wasteland of pimply faced kids who can’t find the hood release on their 12 year old Saturn with the giant wing on the back.

    If you’re driving an older, collector type car, buy your parts from a brand specialist. Lots of the parts supplied for older cars come from places like Russia, Brazil and 3rd world countries. They may be able to make the part fit, but it’s not made of the same quality materials. I’ve seen control arm bushings fail in a year and ball joints that only last 6 months. Brand specialists will sell ONLY parts for a particular brand of car and will be familiar with the suppliers and know what parts are good and what aren’t. They may not match the discounters in price, but there is usually a reason (and greed isn’t necessarily it).

    I used the Wal-Mart oil for awhile in my own vehicles, feeling that oil is oil is oil. But running it in my track car, I found that the Wal-Mart oil would generate noisy lifters and lower oil pressures much faster than good ol’ Castrol. It’s fine oil for running in your beater or something you plan on trading in a few years, but not if you are trying to get 200,000 out of something.

    Like Wal-Mart, AutoZone et al have driven the local, knowledgable parts store out of business. We as a country are so obsessed with saving a buck that quality of components and service have taken a back seat. Once it’s gone, it’s hard to recapture.

  • avatar

    We are lucky to have two good traditional auto parts store in our town, one a NAPA franchise and one part of a small regional mini-chain of 5-10 stores. The people there mostly know cars, like cars and treat the customer well. I was in both of them today whilst struggling with the PITA job of changing the oil pan gasket on on older F-150 with the straight 6. Great engine, but a real )*(&)(& to get the oil pan out of. Remove radiator, remove starter, remove intake manifold, hold engine with cherry-picker, remove motor mounts, pull engine up, swear scratch …. oh well, enough of my whinging :).

    Kragen, AutoZone and the rest are for buying oil on sale, and not much else.

  • avatar

    I have found RockAuto to be really good in terms of price, delivery, and return policy. They sell multiple brands of almost any part, including manufacturer brand parts, too. Their online catalogue is easy to use. As for the mailing list thing, you can easily opt out of the mailing list. I agree that mail in rebates SUCK!! I hate wasteful junk mail. One other thing that is good is that they offer a 5% discount code with your order. Some brand enthusiast websites (You guys call them cheerleader sites) post current codes for you to use. (Taurusclub would be one such site that does this) Obviously web based stores are not helpful for unscheduled repairs, but for all scheduled maintenance and general repair work they are great. It is nice to be able to cut out the dope in the store that keeps going by the part that you know is the correct one.

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