Quality ranks high, despite economic concerns
It doesn't take an industry insider to figure out that the year has gotten off to a rocky start. Retail giant Wal-Mart has reported slow sales, and even high-end stores like Nordstrom are taking a hit.
With gas prices still hovering near record-high marks, consumers are deferring maintenance on their vehicles or simply doing the repair work themselves. But does the high price of gas and other consumer goods affect where intrepid DIYers buy their parts?
"Absolutely," says Amando Mendoza III, a DIYer and circulation director for the San Francisco Daily News. "Normally I would buy parts from my local Toyota dealer, no questions asked. Now I look on the Web or at other dealer prices through the Web to see if they have better prices."
Mendoza also uses the Internet to search for competitive prices on accessories. Recently, he purchased a second gas tank for his 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser from a dealer in Australia, simply because the price was right.
"Sometimes the price is better online for larger items because of the tax," he adds.
Like Mendoza, Dana Adams of Sherman Oaks, Calif., is not averse to ordering hard parts for his vehicles online. But he will only do so if the postage is reasonable. On the other hand, Adams refuses to drive all over town to save a buck or two. His tried-and-true formula for saving money on parts and/or maintenance items is to buy oil in bulk from Costco or from local jobbers when it's on sale.
Still, Adams is more concerned about the quality of a part than its price. A long-time DIYer — and the owner of a car dealership in Sherman Oaks, Calif. — he is willing to part with his hard-earned money if it means he's getting a quality part.
"I'm unhappy that so many U.S. jobs have been lost overseas, so if I see a non-Chinese part that is superior in quality to a Chinese part, I will spend more money on the better item," Adams says.
Other DIYers report shopping the sales and stocking up on parts for future maintenance when the opportunity arises.
"I've always bought my parts from our local NAPA and VIP stores," says Bob King, a DIYer from Lisbon, Maine. But he has been known to purchase motor oil and fuel filters at the town's Wal-Mart. King is responsible for keeping three cars on the road — a 2002 Ford F-150, a 2004 Ford E150 and a 2005 Chevy Equinox. So when Wal-Mart has a sale on oil, or VIP sends him coupons, he doesn't think twice about where he's going to shop. "The higher cost of gas hasn't really affected where I shop for parts and accessories. I've always been a frugal coupon-clipper."
Some DIYers save money on parts by joining associations that offer member discounts. Alvaro Rodriguez, from Sacramento, Calif., is a Toyota enthusiast who drives a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and a 2008 Toyota Tacoma. He does most of the maintenance work on the Land Cruiser himself and says he receives a fairly large discount on parts for belonging to a vehicle enthusiast association — although he is quick to point out that the high price of gas had nothing to do with him joining the association. In fact, he has been a member for many years.
"I recently rebuilt the front end on my Cruiser," Rodriguez says. "A dealer would typically charge $1,200 in labor for this job. Plus, I got the parts for the job at 30 percent off. I think I saved more than $1,500 doing it myself."
Philip Hobden, a mechanical engineer from San Jose, Calif., often buys parts from his local Honda dealership if he can't find them at an independent shop. But he does the repairs himself and recently saved more than $3,640 by repairing his 1995 Honda Accord wagon in his own backyard.
"I figured out that I saved $3,000 on a blown head gasket, $600 on a timing belt and $40 on a basic oil change by doing the work myself," he says.
Still, when all is said and done, DIYers aren't willing to compromise on quality. And if that means searching high and low for the right part, they are often willing to go to the necessary extremes.
"The best quality matters, regardless of where a part is made," says James Doh, a resident of Pasadena, Calif. "More often than not, 'Made in Germany' or 'Made in Japan' means more than 'Made in the U.S.A.' I wish 'Made in the U.S.A.' mattered more, but it's difficult to actually find products made here."
And if clipping coupons or ordering parts from Australia guarantees savings and quality, it seems that DIYers are more than happy to do both — and to change their own oil, too.
"It's been so long since I've taken my car in to have an oil change done at a shop, that I have no idea what it actually costs," King says. "I can't imagine they could ever beat the cost of a filter and some oil, though."