Do you find yourself intimidated or frustrated when faced with going into a parts store to get things for your vehicle, or when buying parts online? Here are a few tips to take the sting out of that chore.

Vehicle Information

First, have your vehicle information with you. This includes the year, make, and model of the vehicle. Those are the obvious ones. Some of the other things the parts person may ask in order to get the correct part for you are: the vehicle identification number (VIN), the date of manufacture (found on the label on the driver’s door),the  engine size, the type of transmission, and perhaps the submodel (the extra identifier after the model name, e.g. XL, LE, R/T, etc.). Note this information in your phone or keep a notecard in your glovebox with the owner’s manual to save yourself some time.

Speaking of the owner’s manual, you can find information on the types of bulbs and fluids you will need in there. There may be some additional information you want to note so you can go right to the shelves, or online, to get what you need. Manufacturing changes can affect parts ordering, check ChiltonDIY technical service bulletins for updates.

Core Charge

Some parts come with a "core charge." It is similar to the deposit you pay on a can of soda to encourage recycling. A core charge is a deposit to encourage you to return a component for recycling or reuse. After replacing a part with a core charge, return it for a refund.

Bring the Original Part

Another option that I have found useful is to bring the original part with me. This not only takes care of the core charge right away, but I can make sure the part I am purchasing matches the one I am replacing. This is especially helpful when replacing something that needs parts transferred, such as an alternator. Sometimes the pulley from the old one needs to be transferred to the new one. The parts house may be able to do that for you for free and save you some time. Some of the more commonly replaced parts with a core charge include the alternator, starter, and battery.

Return Policy

Ask about the parts store’s return policy when purchasing parts. There are some parts that cannot be returned after being installed. Electronic parts and some fuel system components are examples of parts that cannot be returned after being installed. In these cases, it is even more helpful to have the old part with you to match up to the one you are buying before making the purchase. If you don’t have the old one with you, make sure to compare the one that you remove to the one you purchased before installing it. If they do not match, return the new one and bring the old one with you for comparison.

Part Warranty

Read the warranty that comes with the part, and keep it in a file so you can refer back to it if you need to replace the part again. Exhaust, suspension, and brake components are some of the warranties that you should keep, but most parts do come with a warranty that should be filed until they expire.


Collect any fluids that you drain from your vehicle as they are a hazard to people, pets, and the environment and need to be disposed of correctly. Also, read all the warnings in the car or truck repair procedure before proceeding.

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Tracy Junker portrait, Chilton

An automotive editor with more than 15 years automotive industry experience, Tracy Junker's father owned and operated a garage for about 30 years. Though too young at the time to work in the garage, she worked with him later at home on the family’s vehicles and those of former customers that would not trust anyone but her Dad to fix their cars correctly. Tracy says, “My interest in cars began because I loved working with Dad on whatever project he had going.”