Sooner or later your old car will need some work doing to it, and if you are DIY-minded you can save a huge amount of money by carrying out the repairs yourself. So where do you get the parts you need?
Scrapyards - Usually the cheapest place to get mechanical and electrical components such as starter motors, column switchgear etc, as well as interior and trim items which may be unobtainable from any other source. When a car goes out of production, trim parts are usually the first thing to become unavailable. Scrapyards come in two forms. There are the traditional breakers yards, where you take a box of tools and help yourself. Make sure that the part you want is in good order before you start trying to remove it, and check that it is exactly the same as the one you are replacing. During the production life of a car, there are numerous minor changes to components, so don't assume that a steering column from a 1989 Golf will fit your 1984 car - it may not.
The second type of scrapyard is the kind where the vehicles are dismantled by the yard's own staff, and parts are cleaned and tested before being stored ready for sale. You will pay more, but it saves a lot of hassle, especially if it is raining. Many scrapyards, especially the dismantling kind, now have computerised stock, and by ringing a single number (see Yellow Pages) you can have your enquiry sent to 25-30 yards who will then ring you if they have the part in stock. This is especially useful if you have an unusual vehicle - I tracked down a cylinder head and heater plug relay for a Toyota Hilux using this service. I wouldn't have found them otherwise - they came from a yard 250 miles away.
Scrapyards can be found in the Yellow Pages (Car & Commercial Vehicle Dismantlers) or in the back pages of your local Auto Trader. Alternatively, reader Duncan Martin suggested this. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds worth a go:
"As well as the yellow pages service, it's now possible to find online breakers or online people who will contact breakers. Eg www.findapart.co.uk you fill in a form with what you need, and then they send this to breakers who ring or email you the next day. You don't even pay for a phone call! ;-) Used this 3 times, got exactly what I wanted every time for not much money, and delivered within a few days."
And reader Chris Costello made another good point:
" "Dismantle it yourself" scrapyards can supply more than just parts. If you know there's something you'll need to do that requires loosening / removing trim then an hour spent inside a scrapped car will teach you where the fasteners are & where leverage can be applied without spoiling anything in your own car."
High Street accessory shops - Halfords, Wilco, A1 etc. Probably the best bet for routine service parts such as plugs, filters, batteries, brake pads and suchlike. Prices usually reasonable, and most shops carry a wide range. However, they are unlikely to carry less commonly needed parts such as steering joints and shock absorbers (although they can usually order them). Used to dealing with the general public, so shop assistants will smile patiently as you try to describe a part that you don't know the name of......
Specialist parts suppliers - These can be found via the Yellow Pages (try under 'Car Accessories') or Auto Trader. They may just specialise in one make, or cover several (i.e. German & Swedish will supply parts for VW, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Saab and Volvo). Much better stock than High Street shops of the more obscure parts, and usually cheaper as well. Most specialists cover the more expensive luxury cars, where original parts are viciously expensive from dealers and difficult to get hold of anywhere else. If you own a Proton or Hyundai, there is unlikely to be a specialist in your area.
A visit to German & Swedish scored this lot, for less than a VW main agent would charge for a gallon of engine oil.
Motor factors - parts suppliers to the motor trade. These usually have a trade counter, and will carry a wide range of parts (including body panels) at trade price. However, they are geared towards the motor trade, not the general public, so only use them if you know exactly what you are after, and can describe it accurately. Listed in Yellow Pages (under 'Motor Factors', surprisingly....)
Main dealers - The weapon of last resort. This is by far the most expensive way to buy parts, and customer service can be very variable. Many dealers really don't want people coming in to buy bits for obsolete twelve year old cars, and don't bother to hide it. However there are exceptions, and I have had storemen go out of their way to dig up obscure parts for me. The only time you should use a dealer is when you need a part that is so unusual that none of the aftermarket suppliers make it. As an example, I needed a rubber gaiter to fit between the steering rack and bulkhead on a Golf. This part is seldom needed, so is only available from VW. It cost me £52 plus VAT, which is outrageous for a bit of moulded rubber - but there was no way I could make one myself. If you own something really weird like a Renault 21 Turbo Quadra (only 140 imported) the chances are that Halfords won't list it in any of their catalogues anyway, in which case you are at the mercy of the dealership network even for routine service items. And if you own a SAO, Lonsdale, Lancia, Dacia or FSO, you are totally stuffed 'cos there aren't any dealers any more.
It is increasingly common for dealers to ask you for the VIN number (chassis number) before they will condescend to look up the parts you want on the computer, which can be very irritating when it is a part that you know was unchanged through the life of the vehicle. However, this does avoid the common problem, where you want an oil filter for a 1989 Nissan Micra and the Halfords catalogue lists two alternatives - one for 1984-89, and the other for 1989-94. So which one is right for your car? (Assuming it still has its original engine.)