How to Cheap Out on Car Parts the Smart Way: Our Best Reader Tips

This week we asked readers where it’s OK to cheap out on car parts. Here are the best insights for all you bargain hunters.

byAndrew P. Collins| PUBLISHED Jan 12, 2023 5:28 PM
How to Cheap Out on Car Parts the Smart Way: Our Best Reader Tips
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Earlier this week, we asked you to name the car parts you feel OK about cheaping out on. Ideally, we'd all have Musk money and could grab gilded washers for every project. But if you're new to the DIY world and want some insights on where it's least-bad to cut corners, here are the best insights we gathered from our ever-brilliant commentariat.

In case you missed it, every Tuesday we'll be asking a Quick Question for you to chew on and discuss. On Thursdays, we'll share a selection of the best answers and offer some context. Note: quotes in italics are reader comments, and the only editing on the comments we feature will be occasional shortening for formatting.

Be Proactive

Another way of “going cheap” is to be proactive and shop places like Amazon or Rock Auto for parts that have been returned, so they can’t sell as new. When I was doing the CTS-V brake upgrade on my G8, I was able to get a killer deal on a GM branded Brembo caliper from Amazon this way. ~ Jimal

User Jimal mentioned a hack for getting discounts on high-quality parts. Being proactive when it comes to car-part shopping might also mean jumping on a great deal when you see one, even if it's not something you need at the moment.

Interior Lights Don’t Need To Be Nice

Interior/dome lighting: as long as they are the correct size, and have proper cooling/heat sinks, the LEDs you can grab from Amazon (or Aliexpress) are probably the same as what you'd get from something like SuperbrightLEDs anyways. ~ dhj

Interior lighting is probably not going to be a priority if you're strapped for cash, but if you're just frugal, yeah the cheap option will get the job done.

Research OEM Supplier Parts

If you've got a Toyota use Aisin aftermarket parts since they generally are making the actual Toyota parts, but at like half the price. Usually they grind off where the Toyota lettering is on the castings. A lot of the Beck Arnley stuff I suspect is actually OEM as well. A lot of their bearing are Koyo's like Toyota uses, but much cheaper. I kind of feel like fan belts it doesn't matter too much which brand you use. ~ Aaron

Aisin, Denso, NGK for the Japanese brands (Toyota owns Aisin, and is the single largest shareholder of Denso). Bosch, ATE, Wahler, M.A.N.N., Boge, TRW, and Continental for most of the Euro brands. Mando for the KIA and Hyundai. RockAuto has a great selection of all of these. Beck Arnley I stay away from....especially any reman parts. I've had a very high initial fail rate. ~ Bird2112

Denso as well, I have a couple buddies keeping their Suzuki's on the road here in the US by just finding the right Denso part number when electronics go bad. They have been keeping their cars going to 10 years past Suzuki selling cars in the US. ~ SocDriver

Let me provide some context to this discussion for readers who don't know, because this is good intel. OEM (from the factory) parts are generally the highest-quality replacement items you're going to get. But car companies don't make every part that goes into their product. For example, the spark plugs in my Honda Civic are "Honda Genuine Parts" but they're made by another company (actually two companies, Denso and NGK made factory plugs for the eighth-gen Civic).

Why that matters: You can often find the factory Denso or NGK plugs for a lot less money than the "genuine" item, even online, even though they're the same product. You'll be able to find out which suppliers to shop for specifically for your car with some light Googling.

Fancy-Brand Motor Oil Might Not Be Worth It

... while I do agree, in practice I don't see any reason why you shouldn't pay the extra $5-10 for quality oil, especially since changing your oil every 5k means you're probably only changing it 2-3 times per year ... If you are paying to have it changed, the "premium" service including high quality oil is often significantly more expensive, and that is one scenario where I think it does make sense to get the cheap oil change and just make sure to change it every 3-5k. ~ CosmikMotorsports

Counterpoint: IS that pricier stuff actually any better or are you just spending more on advertising and a name brand? If spending an extra $5-10 for nothing more than a different box or a slick superbowl commercial makes you feel better by all means go for it but don't tell me I'm doing wrong by my car if my Walmart Supertech oil and filter does exactly the same job just as well as your pricier oil and filter. .... ~ SomeAssmblyReq

I opened my prompt about "where to be cheap" earlier this week mentioning that motor oil is something you don't necessarily need to spend a lot of money on. CosmikMotorsports and SomeAssmblyReq's conversation went on to get into the fact that some expensive oil and filters are indeed empirically better, while others are just a label. Like everything else—a little research on your own will get you over the finish line on what's worth paying extra for in your car.

No Shame if You’re Car’s Not Precious Enough To Need Top-Tier Parts

If you've got an older car, factory parts are either excessively hard to find and/or expensive. Unless you've got a classic that you're trying to keep stock, the more reputable aftermarket companies are fine. ... anything you get from an auto parts store is usually satisfactory. I've used them for engine mounts, starters, ball joints, CV axles, etc. I avoid eBay shit like the plague. ~ Merovingian1685

This kind of brings home the point of this whole discussion. Sometimes, you just need your car to keep moving. When you're working on a part that's easy to swap out but theoretically shouldn't need changing too often, that's the least-inconvenient way to cut corners when you're spending money on your car.

Of course, if you plan to keep your vehicle for a long time I'd personally recommend compromising elsewhere and taking the best care of it you can. Hey, this is a car enthusiast site after all!