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Is Bringing Your Own Auto Parts to a Mechanic Worthwhile?

By Aaron Crowe

Buying Your Own Auto PartsThe poor economy is causing more people to keep their old cars longer, which could lead to more trips to an auto shop. Those bills can get expensive, but repair costs can be cut if you’re willing to spend some time and effort shopping for parts for your car.

That can include going to a junk yard and pulling used parts out of a car, buying aftermarket parts that don’t come from the car’s maker, or buying used parts online. If you’re worried about keeping your car’s warranty in good standing, you may need to buy OEM parts, or “original equipment manufacturer” parts made by the cars maker.

The savings can be substantial — a few hundred dollars — since auto shops markup the costs of parts by 100 to 200 percent, says Rob Infantino, CEO of Openbay, an online marketplace for vehicle owners to cross-shop, book and pay for local auto repair and maintenance.

Saving $15 or so on a minor part probably isn’t worth your time, but saving $300 to $500 on a part that can cost $750 to $1,000 probably is. Or maybe it isn’t if you don’t have the time or expertise to find the correct part, and would rather take your car to a mechanic and have them fix it without you having do deal with any hassles.

A DIY hybrid

Some auto shops, however, are specializing in do-it-yourselfers who want to buy the parts and only pay for the labor. B.Y.O.P. Automotive in Montgomery, Alabama, encourages vehicle owners to bring their own parts and only pay the auto shop for its labor.

“A lot of people are trying to save money these days,” says Valerie Sheperd, owner of the Montgomery store and three others.

Customers save up to 200 percent, says Sheperd, offering an example that can save more than that: A water pump that can cost $125 at an auto repair shop can actually cost $25. Her store’s labor is also cheaper, she says, at $60 to $92.50 an hour, depending on the job, versus $85 to $135 an hour at a repair shop that sells parts. The shop can also get parts for customers.

Before buying parts, B.Y.O.P. customers’ cars are given a diagnostic test to determine what’s wrong, and then the customer is sent out to buy parts if they want to. If they buy a used part that the mechanic can’t get to work, they’re still charged for the labor.

“If the part doesn’t work, you’re still responsible for the labor because we put the part on,” Sheperd says.

Mary Chase, a public interest attorney in Oak Park, Ill., who hasn’t used B.Y.O.P. Automotive but has paid mechanics for their labor to install parts she’s bought elsewhere, says she usually saves 40 to 60 percent off the cost of a new part when buying used parts for her 1997 Saturn. The biggest savings, Chase says, was when she paid $1,400 for a used engine that would have cost her $5,000 to $7,500 new.

“It has run flawlessly, and has saved me lots of money due to the high fuel economy,” she says.

Chase has also bought parts from junkyards, usually saving 20-25 percent of the cost of the new part. These have included a car radio, mirrors, console, doors and windshield. Many of those she puts on herself, but for complicated parts she hires a mechanic at a local auto shop that allows used parts to be brought in by customers. She says she only buys parts that include a warranty, and is picky about not buying a part that has too high or too low mileage.

Potential for problems

One of the biggest problems of providing your own parts for repair is they may not work, says David Smith, national operations manager at Auto Damage Experts, a vehicle appraisal business. If they do work after installation but later fail, you could end up in a dispute between the mechanic and the parts provider over who is at fault.

Unless you know what you’re doing, you may buy the wrong part and have to spend time going back and forth between the supply and repair stores. Besides, Smith says, an auto repair shop is likely to get a price break from its parts supplier that a walk-in customer won’t get. With a part provided by the auto shop, enforcing a warranty will likely be a lot easier, he says.

“The consumer doesn’t have the buying power that a shop has to offer a warranty,” he says.

What consumers should do, Smith says, is call an auto parts store for a price on the part they need, and then call their mechanic and ask if they’ll match that price. That way you’re no longer assuming all of the risk if the part fails, he says.

“You’re better off letting a professional do what they do,” he says.

The majority of auto repair shops prefer not to let customers bring in their own parts because there isn’t much margin in it unless the shop isn’t busy, Infantino says.

A repair shop won’t offer a warranty on the part being brought in, and it can be difficult for a car owner to know exactly which part to get, he says.

“Later model cars are more complex and it’s going to be harder for you to diagnose what part failed,” Infantino says.

Aaron Crowe is a reporter who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.