Sourcing spare parts

This is an interesting time for cars from the ’80s & ’90s. They are rapidly transitioning from abused beater cars into minor-league collectibles. That’s great for owners in so many ways…but it also carries a significant downside problem…spare parts availability. Dealers rarely carry economical parts for classic cars. Thus the number of available parts cars should be a primary decision before the purchase of a collectible. If you don’t believe me, take a look at collectible cars from the ’60s & ’70s. Not many of them remain affordable. It’s a headache to source overpriced restoration parts for “bargain” vehicles requiring extensive repairs. In the realm of affordability, there’s an unstoppable increase in maintenance costs. It can become an unexpected financial drag after the supply of worthwhile parts cars dries up. It’d be naive to expect easy pickings for something highly desirable like an E28 M5 or E30 M3. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen…but it’s not very likely. Even if such a parts car turned up, the financial incentive is to restore the car instead of using it up for a few spare parts. Having said all that, here are my favorite solutions to expensive dealer parts departments & auto parts stores.

Solution #1: The parts car

A great solution to this problem is buying a parts car while they’re still cheap. A variation on that technique is to buy a shabbier version of the car you really want first. Enjoy it until you find a better version, then use your current car as the parts car. Replace parts on the higher-spec vehicle as required.

You could also look for another enthusiast that’s retiring from his needy projects, moving along to greener pastures, or even an enthusiast’s estate sale (I’m not being morbid here, no true enthusiast would be unhappy seeing his pride & joy being cared for by a kindred spirit). My personal favorite is the owner that’s bitten off more than he can chew. You’re really helping a fellow spirit out of a jam, and he might really have an unexpectedly large amount of knowledge to share as well. On occasion you’ll run into the automotive version of an antique dealer…those are the ones you want to meet. You never know!

Solution #2: The salvage yard

This is another great solution to parts problems: your “friendly” local self-serve salvage yard. Also known as ‘u-pull-it’ or ‘pick-n-pull’ yards, these can be a wonderful resource. These can also be intimidating places, but don’t worry, we have you covered. First off, let me explain what [little] I understand about the salvage process.

Salvageable cars flow though channels in our local market. Owners directly sell unloved/broken/damaged cars through eBay, CL or FB. Great market, lots of bargains to be had. Insurance auctions indirectly compete with these online marketplaces. CoPart is out local auctioneer; they are the priciest market segment (cars typically 2-6 years old, inventory constantly changes). Once cars pass through the insurance process, they will start turning up at local & online salvage yards. Thus, salvage yards won’t see cars newer than about 5-10 years old. There are three primary types of yards around me:

  1. High-traffic salvage yards (cars are typically 5-10 years old, low-demand inventory will be scrapped within 2-3 months)
  2. Large-scale yards (cars are typically 10-15 years old, inventory usually lasts a year or two)
  3. Auto “graveyards” (all sorts of older cars, inventory can remain there for decades).

We’ve only recently gotten a large corporate pick-n-pull here, I presume it will wipe out the local supplies of unfortunate cars newer than 2000.

Solution #3: Aftermarket & third-party parts suppliers

My primary needs for consumable wear items is still the online store. However, quality is a continual problem as suppliers can easily cut quality to increase their profits. Not that names mean much in these times of international conglomerates, but I’ve specifically noted MTC and Uro as two manufacturers with major quality problems, with Hamburg Technic close behind.

German OEM manufacturer networks (such as Bosch, ATE, Getrag, ZF, etc.) have been closing out some of their parts manufacturing for many reasons. This is rapidly resulting in higher prices due to outsourcing & supply & demand economics. I found a good article at AutoHausAZ about this phenomenon.

Solution #4: Enthusiasts just like yourself!

I remain committed to recycling used parts through eBay, among other markets, to meet this demand. There’s a lot of people like me, just doing this for the love of the sport. On a personal note, every time I get a desperately-needed part into someone else’s hands, it gives me a little more motivation to keep on with this hobby. It takes a surprising amount of effort to find, evaluate, refurbish, and sell these parts. The scrapper never stops!

Parts cars can also be “virtualized”. Seriously! I’m not making this stuff up. Sign up for a marque or one-make club…volunteer at forum sites…stop at local get-togethers… With a little bit of effort you can build up enough of a reputation to buy parts from hundreds of other enthusiasts. It’s a great solution, and offers the additional bonus of becoming an enabler by encouraging others’ ambitions!

Final thoughts

I wonder if there’s a formula in here somewhere? Total production of your model, total chassis production time-span, club support, OEM support, depreciation, practicality, desirability or durability or an outlier like the “drift-ability” factor. There’s also a threshold value if your particular vehicle has fallen under the “summer job” budgetary constraint. Once that happens, your ubiquitous car will rapidly become automotive fodder. The attrition from the flat-brimmer drifter resto-mod stanced crowd isn’t a factor to be taken lightly. Ask yourself a question: where did all the nice examples of fun cars go? Examples include: any Miata, any Honda that was fun, any BMW 3-series that was fun (E36 M3, E46 ZHP, etc.), any Japanese car that was featured in a FnF movie (Supra, 350Z, 240SX, AE86, MR2, RX8, etc..).