ONLINE CAR PARTS—WELCOME TO THE MINEFIELD

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I’m a long-term guy in the car hobby, so I know what it was like to find and order vintage car parts in the pre-Internet era.

I can sum it up this way—you bought collector car magazines, found some parts listings, or bought them from a surly junkyard dog who always overcharged you.

Sadly, the new world of parts searches has its own set of minefields. Start with delivery. I like to support local businesses first, so that’s where I always start. Unfortunately, that’s like looking for car parts on Mars.

For example, I tried to find a fuel sending unit for a 1975 Dodge pickup locally, but I would have had more luck asking the clerk if he was into blood sacrifices. I wasn’t surprised by the answer, but if you’re not loyal to your hometown–you need a new address.

I found a sending unit online and paid the equivalent of Jamaica’s national debt to get it delivered to my doorstop. The company made it clear this sending unit was specific to the ’75 Dodge, but what they didn’t factor in was this–the factory parts bin meant they put 1974 Dodge sending units in 1975 Dodge trucks.

This truck only has 22,000 miles on it, so it was completely original, and the sending unit mix-up was my fault. At least, that’s what the guy at the other end thought. That’s why I had to fork over serious money to send it back to the seller—or find a guy with a ’74 Dodge pickup. I would have been better off talking to the surly junkyard guy from decades ago, because at least he would give you another sending unit to try—-without mega shipping fees.

The same thing happened with the master cylinder on the truck. It wasn’t needed—but returning it would have netted 7 bucks on the initial cost. That one wasn’t a complete loss because an extra master cylinder isn’t a bad thing to have in stock for a 49-year-old Dodge truck.

Windshields are another free-fire zone on the old car hobby. A windshield for a 1963 Plymouth isn’t impossible to find, but it was a big challenge—especially during the plague a few years ago. There’s a guy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada who has a big operation and a decent reputation, so he was the go-to man to find a windshield after several local glass companies backed away at 100 miles per hour.

He had a cash upfront policy–but based on his reputation that wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately, he was really attached to the payment part but less attached to the actually providing a windshield part–so months went by before he finally refunded the payment.

The last adventure involved the ’63 Plymouth again. I wanted a new signal light lens because of a major road trip in a few weeks so I ordered it just after Christmas.

I used a major Canadian vintage Mopar supplier because the Canadian dollar/peso is so weak against the US dollar, plus shipping across Canada is generally less costly than crossing the border—in theory.

They even called in late December to ask me how I was doing. That was impressive, but she was a little cautious when I told her how amazing their estimated delivery time was. They blew by that deadline by a month, so that’s when I cancelled the order.

I found a company in the States that took the order and processed it within hours for almost 50% less (in CDN dollars). The NORS part was on my doorstep in less than a week—they don’t advertise on MyStar but contact me if you want to deal with them.  

I want to end this with some advice. Research is your best friend so ask questions like ‘What is your return policy?’ 

Shop around because there are no borders when it comes to car parts. Some of the best prices and service come out of the United States, so drop the patriotism bias and find the most effective seller if you live somewhere else. Their level of better service isn’t 100% certain but, in my experience, it’s a lot more than 50%.

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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