Online vs. Brick & Mortar: Auto Parts Edition

Online vs Brick & Mortar Auto Parts Stores

A Usage-Based Guide to Buying

The holidays are always the best place to see the changing patterns in consumer spending. Every year we have a boxing match(good canadian pun?) between brick and mortar and online retailers. Recently, the pendulum is swinging to the side of online buying with buyers trending towards Cyber Monday, rather than having to break out great-grandpa Erwin’s trench spike at low-end electronics stores on Black Friday.

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Likewise, automotive parts sales have been moving away from the brick and mortar stores and towards online retailers, wholesalers, drop shipping companies, and manufacturers direct sales. However, much like consumer goods, car parts will eventually hit a salinization point where the market will even out, and there’s a lot of reasons for this, the biggest of which being that there is an immediacy with car parts that is not seen in other segments of the market. Do you need a 64’’ TV RIGHT now? Probably not. If your car is overheating because water pump is broken, do you need a water pump right now? Yes, I mean unless you have an old Porsche.

In this article, we will be going over some of the pull factors towards each end of the purchasing spectrum, in an effort to help you decide weather you should get it online, or just head down to the parts store on the corner. We will also be taking a look at some of the favorite retailers and online parts companies that Surfwrench Techs actually use when they are buying parts to fix your cars. For techs, we are going to look at this matrix as a way of maximizing profits and being able to turn more jobs, faster, and for less money out of pocket.


Typically speaking, online purchasing will always show you the best price options that brick and mortar just can’t touch. This is especially true with companies such as, where the prices are not much over the price from the manufacturer. The only place where the price can sneak up is in the shipping of large or cumbersome parts. URST and HSTuning are also good priced online retailers for typically more expensive European import parts.


Not all stores are created equal on price. Many of the small mom and pop stores are not typically that much more expensive than the big chains. However, one major chain where we found that the price of parts was much higher than the industry average was Pepboys, with Manny, Moe and Jack charging 5-50% higher than area averages for everything from basic to make/model specific parts. Another tool in the technician’s arsenal is having a commercial account, or having some access to a commercial account. In these instances, they can often get significant discounts on parts by the volume at which they do business with a parts store.



fedex-delivery-truckOnline delivery is typically fairly slow and can be quite costly depending on the part in question. One such instance on Surfwrench saw a 2006 Ford Fusion being ordered an $81.00 hood, and being charged $212.00 in shipping and handling. If that seems like a lot, you’ve obviously never moved a hood cross country. However, on Amazon, some of their parts are Prime accessible and will have free 2 day shipping. You know its deer season when one of these is full of hoods, headlights and fenders.


Okay, we’re not going to sit here and pretend that some of the shipping cost isn’t folded into the cost of the part, but it would be nowhere near the amount in the example above, even if it was a special order. If the part was in stock, oftentimes the delivery charge is waived.



Once again this one isn’t even fair. Often times, online parts stores source their goods directly from the manufacture, so their warehouse space is literally limitless. Other times, they have massive warehouses similar to the set ups employed by Amazon. However, some online retailers will specialize in certain makes and models such as which specializes in toasters. Just kidding, it specializes in BMW, Mini, Audi, VW, Mercedes Benz, and Porsche Parts. Despite the name of German Auto Parts, they also carry parts for Saabs and Volvos as well!




This is where things start to get interesting. You would think this would be a massive blowout by the online retailers, but in many instances it isn’t. The market has naturally evolved over time to be competitive with online retailers, without even really trying. Often times parts stores work in networks, weather they be in company or in the area. Often, if one store doesn’t have a particular part, they will know someone who does and can often get it to you relatively quickly and inexpensively. They would rather source the part than lose the sale. However, often times slower moving parts will be in a company warehouse, which is exactly the same as getting it from an online seller, albeit at a higher price. Parts Store availability also hinges on the ability and willingness of the staff to get you the parts that you need. *insert manual/automatic wiper blades meme here*

Customer Service:


blunttech-logoIn the past, online retailers have been maligned for their customer service. This is the one area where they have made the biggest strides in the past several years, as online parts sellers become more and more invested in their customer base. Often, they will replace parts at no charge to you if the wrong thing is sent. One of the best online parts retailers as echoed by numerous trusted Surfwrench technicians is They have cited the owner, Steve as one of the major reasons that they continue to buy parts from here. This is exactly what people look for when buying parts. However, as customer service goes, some online parts stores have a more refined process than others.


In store customer service can be seriously hit or miss depending on the skill and knowledge base of the people working there. Techs have regaled us with stories about parts people not knowing anything, and there are a thousand memes out there about asking if the car is an automatic or manual when getting wiper blades for it. However, one of the major shining stars for in store customer service is Parts Plus in the Rochester and Buffalo areas. Another one that we like is Napa, as most of them are run by the people who own that particular franchize. When the person has a real stake in the game, they tend to do a much better job. This, paired with an extensive knowledge of the name brand parts that they are selling is a major key when getting your car back on the road quickly, inexpensively, and without making a million trips because someone with a 9th grade education got you a left control arm when you needed a right one. Advanced Auto also have received numerous compliments on their people and customer service.




Sometimes these major factors can be helped or hindered by some other fringe benefits of choosing one over the other. In reality, consumer buying patterns and preferences is a serious science, and there is a lot of psychology that goes into it.

Email Invoicing v. Saving Receipts:

When you order parts online, they often send an email with the order number, a tracking number, a receipt of payment, and an invoice. When calculating the total price of a job, this is valuable information. So needless to say, if there is a problem, it is good to have an entire dedicated email folder for just your parts receipts (we know, we do this too). This is typically preferred over having a shoebox full of receipts for parts, it’s simpler and it’s a lot less likely to get lost or destroyed, thus insuring that if there is some sort of problem, you can get it fixed quickly and easily.


This one is pretty much a draw, but it’s a lot faster to be able to drop off a part at a parts store than to ship it back and wait for a new one. This is a minor pain in the ass, but in some cases it could mean weeks of down time for a car, and in some cases that’s really just not kosher. Also, when parts are in transit, your money is in transit as well. However, one of the major selling points for online parts sellers is the fact that the only thing that you have to pay for is the shipping. This is how RockAuto does it, and it is a major selling point for some technicians.

Hours of Operation:

Online is the clear winner in this one. Having the ability to order parts at any time of day or night gives online parts sellers a major leg up on their brick and mortar rivals. This is an incredible tool for people who work after hours. We have a technician who diagnoses cars all day, then orders the parts at night. This system is super efficient, but there is a little bit more downtime for his customers.

Social Factor:

Some people want to talk to people when they are buying parts. This is a vast minority, as cars have reached a point where they are so technically challenging to work on, that you really have to know exactly what you’re doing in order to do even minor repairs. Ergo, most people DON’T want to talk to people when they are getting car parts. Hence, why there are literally 4,000,000 memes about parts guys asking if a car is automatic or manual for something completely unrelated to the transmission.

If you need your car fixed quickly, parts can be obtained at local parts stores. However, it is going to be a little bit more expensive. If you are willing to wait a little bit longer, or the repair is not an immediate threat to the overall health of your vehicle, we suggest buying online. This will allow for maximum savings, at the cost of your time. The other major factor at play here is that brick and mortar stores that deliver are more likely to get business from our technicians. Also, despite all of the meme’s, the real fact remains: when you are buying a part online the guy looking up the part, is you.

Surfwrench is an automotive repair website and application aimed at helping consumers save time and money on auto repair. In addition, our company is dedicated to helping auto technicians earn more for their work, by connecting them directly with customers. We have served customers in Rochester, NY and across Upstate New York since 2014. For more information about our application, or to submit a repair bid, visit our main site, and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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