GUIDES

Antique Car Parts Buying Guide

Restoring an antique car takes lots of time, energy, patience, and money. The garage is transformed from a place to park the family steed into a combination operating room and workshop. Every waking minute that is not spent on working and eating gets consumed by the antique car project.

Working on an antique car is one thing, and trying to find parts for it is something else entirely. Forget about running down to the corner auto-parts store for whatever is needed, finding parts for an antique car can be about as challenging as prospecting for gold. Anyone who has ever tried this knows that they have to go through lots of pans of dirt before finding their first few flecks of gold.

Read on to learn about the most important considerations when restoring an antique vehicle and shopping for antique car parts in order to find those golden flecks needed to turn one's frustrating garage project into a moving work of art.

Determine the Level of Restoration

Before starting an antique or classic car restoration project, one has to decide what level of restoration one is looking to accomplish. True antique and classic car aficionados expect the car to be restored to like-new condition. If the car is going to be entered into any contests, this is a must. Judges deduct points for anything that is not just like it was when it rolled out of the factory.

Sometimes, it is not possible to return a car to its original condition. Parts may simply not be available. A classic example of this is when the motor of an antique vehicle has been changed out. In this case, the odds against finding the original motor for that car are astronomical.

Many antique car restorers settle for less than an exact restoration to original condition. Usually, this decision comes about after realizing that it is not possible to get some critical component. However, there is a whole other group of people who look at antique cars as an opportunity to be creative. Instead of trying to return the car to original condition, they use the original car as a foundation on which to build their own creation. Hot rods fall into this group; many of them are antique cars which have been extensively modified.

Use Available Resources

Antique car clubs are great resources for finding information about parts, parts suppliers, parts manufacturers, and the original equipment that was on a car. Many of these groups are networked together and have collected documentation about these old cars. Some of this information is readily available to anyone, while other documentation may need to be purchased.

If possible, buying a service manual for the vehicle to be restored can be a lifesaver. These manuals are not available for all antique cars, but some enterprising restorers have created them, based upon their own experience. Manufacturer parts manuals, although rare, are also extremely useful.

A Word About Words

There are several different terms used in the antique/classical/vintage car world to refer to the condition of parts and restoration work. These terms are important to understand so that one knows what one is looking at when shopping for parts.

Term

Definition

OEM

Stands for "original equipment manufacturer"; defines a part as being the same as that originally used by the manufacturer, meaning it is made to the same manufacturer specifications, by the same manufacturer that made the originals

NOS

Stands for "new old stock"; used to describe parts that have never been used, but have been kept in a warehouse for years

Used

A part that has been previously bolted to a vehicle; may have been used a little or often

Refurbished

A part that has been reworked to be useable; may not be reworked to original specifications, but rather, to a useable condition

Restored

A part that has been reworked to make it like new; should meet the original specifications for both function and appearance

Reproduction

A new part that has been made to be as exact a copy of the original part as possible, using the same materials and finish

Copy

A new part that looks like the original, but may differ in materials, function, or finish

Any antique car project typically ends up with parts that come from various categories described in this chart. Ideally, all-OEM parts are desired, but this is almost impossible to achieve. Restorers generally start with the most desirable category listed in the chart (OEM) and work their way down, trying to locate the best parts for their project.

Determine What Is Needed

As the project progresses, many parts encountered may need to be replaced, repaired, or remanufactured. It can be very useful to keep a running list of parts needed, or parts that need to be worked on, broken down by categories. That way, when a source for parts is encountered, it is easy to remember what is needed and ask if those other parts are available as well.

Many restorers are constantly on the lookout for vehicles like the one they are working on that are being "parted out." When they encounter one, they try to buy all the parts they can from their list. In these cases, the list is invaluable, reminding the restorer of the parts they need for their project.

Some parts need to be new, while others can be used. Functional parts which wear through use, often referred to as "maintenance parts," must be replaced by new parts. Things like spark plugs, points for the distributor, hoses, belts, and bearings all belong to this category of parts, which means they must be purchased new. Fortunately, aftermarket versions of most of these parts are made. In many cases, the replacement parts are readily available through normal car part outlets.

Durable parts are usually not as easily encountered as maintenance parts. Body panels, glass, turn signals, structural components, major engine components, trim pieces, and suspension members are much harder to find. In many cases, the best that can be found are used parts that need to be restored.

Do not be afraid of restoring used parts; after all, the entire project is about restoring something used. Many durable components, such as body panels, suspension components, and major engine components, restore extremely well, making them aesthetically and functionally new once more. This may require the services of a skilled machine shop, but it is even possible to restore crankshafts that have been turned past their limits or engine blocks that have been bored out past their limits.

Determine the Condition of the Parts

As discussed, not all parts for an antique car restoration project can be found new. In fact, very few of the parts used in one of these projects is new. In many cases, the parts that are employed are used parts that have been worked over to restore them.

When shopping for used parts, it is important to know what one is looking at. Most sellers leave the part "as is," showing any rust and damage to interested buyers. This is beneficial for the buyer, as they get a better idea of the condition of the part. Never be scared off by a little rust. Rusted parts can be restored with some ingenuity and elbow grease.

If a part has been cleaned up and painted, it is much harder to determine the actual condition of it. The natural assumption is that the part is in like-new condition. However, paint can hide a significant amount of defects, repair attempts, and corrosion. Most sellers leave their parts in the original condition so that the buyer can see exactly what it looks like.

The seller should clearly state the condition of the part and whether it is OEM, refurbished, a reproduction, etc. If they have not done so, be sure to ask, as this is important information in determining whether the part will work for the project.

Often, trim pieces, such as headlight rings, grilles, and hubcaps, need to be re-chromed. This process deposits new chrome plating to replace the old. If a part is bought that should be chrome plated, but it has flaking chrome on it, the chrome should be removed and the part sanded smooth. If necessary, remove any dents and fill any pits in the surface.

Buying Antique Car Parts

eBay is an excellent source for obtaining hard-to-find antique car parts. There are literally hundreds of thousands of antique, classic, and vintage car parts available for purchase on eBay, organized and broken down by various categories in eBay Motors.

eBay Motors has a feature that makes it easy to find the appropriate parts for restoring an antique vehicle. On every car part category page, there is a search bar where the vehicle's year, make, and model can be input, allowing eBay's search engine to find only the parts that are appropriate to that car model. This is in addition to the regular search bar, which can be found at the top of all eBay pages.

The main eBay search bar is also useful for searching for antique car parts. Simply type in the car's make, model, and year, and the name of the part you need. The search engine checks eBay's millions of listings, and returns only the parts you have described..

Many of the vintage car parts sellers on eBay are eBay stores that stock much more than what they have listed at any one moment. Often, the parts they have listed have come from cars that they are parting out. As such, these sellers are open to inquiries about specific parts. You can use the "Ask seller a question" link on an item listing to contact the seller to ask about other parts.

Conclusion

Finding the right parts to restore an antique car can be the most challenging part of an antique car restoration project. The local auto parts store is not likely to have much of what is needed, other than a few high-maintenance parts. For any durable parts, the search can be long and grueling.

When buying parts for a restoration project, it is important to be sure to fully understand what is being sold. Many parts exist that are replacements for the original, rather than being original equipment parts. While it may be necessary to use these replacements, especially if the originals cannot be found, one should be sure of what they are buying and what they are installing on their restoration.

In many cases, it is necessary to restore existing used parts, rather than buy new ones. This is especially true of durable parts, such as body panels, structural elements, and suspension parts. A fully restored part is often the only option and is better than using an aftermarket part that does not fully meet the manufacturer's original specifications.