Wrenching Tips: Let's Go Shopping, Round Three: Online Suppliers

For previous Let’s Go Shopping adventures, we talked more about how to shop than where to shop…partially because giving a thumbs-up to a given retailer reads a lot like advertising. While we’d be happy to run ads from any of these vendors, we want to assure you that this time around it’s entirely uncompensated. In fact, given the money I’ve spent with each of them, it’s more like the other way around.

Today we’re covering a number of online retailers that take you beyond the limits of what’s in your local hardware or auto parts stores. These are project car enablers that’ll take you from “well, that’s impossible” to “oh yeah, I’ll just get a _____ from McMaster”.

McMaster Carr

Ever wonder where engineers go shopping? McMaster-Carr is the place. McMaster (sorry Mr Carr) has every fastener, mechanical or electro-mechanical doohickey you could ever need. Hoses, wire, brackets, storage bins, a ready-made wall ‘o fasteners? All there. Be sure to create a profile so you can save past and future orders, as well as speed up the purchase process.

Keep in mind that if you’re in the same metro area as one of their warehouses, basic shipping typically means next or even same-day delivery. At a previous job, a co-worker needed something post haste, so he spec’ced overnight shipping at outrageous cost. The part left LA, overnighted to Denver, then back to LA for a 3pm delivery, after a non-rushed order from the same day.

Summit Racing

If you’re not into older American cars, you might not understand just how easy and cheap they are to own. Summit makes that possible. Many times it’s cheaper and easier to find an upgrade part from Summit than a stock replacement. You could build an entire Chevy Nova from scratch using Summit Racing. If you’re shopping around for a classic, know that anything from the Big 3 (and even AMC) will have no shortage of engine and drivetrain parts. Even if your car has metric fasteners or was made by communists, you can still use Summit for things like electrical components, fans and safety gear. Annoyingly, they tack on a separate “handling” charge to every order, often negating any price savings over their nearest competitor…

Jegs

Basically Lowe’s to Summit’s Home Depot. Occasionally has different/less crappy selection than Summit, with generally even prices. If you’re shopping around, it’s best to check one, then the other and see whose cart comes out cheaper.

Rockauto

An infinitum of parts, with a pretty slick user interface. Their prices are as good as can be and they provide tools to help you minimize shipping costs by sourcing from the same warehouses. After a big order, they’ll send you a discount code for your next order. My son loves the car magnets they include, as well. They’ll also show you what other cars and years use a given part, a useful tool if you’ve got a crossover year car. The downside is everything’s online, so there’s no advice or ability to check a part at the counter. Also, returns and core charges are kind of pain, given that you have to ship them.

Eastwood

Forget Vanilla Ice, if you’ve got an autobody problem, Eastwood will solve it. If you’re looking to strip, clean, coat, cut or weld, they’ve got the chemicals and tools to help you do it. I’ve used their Rust Converter and Rust Encapsulator on a few occasions and they worked as advertised. Their stuff probably isn’t concours-grade, as I’d assume the pros get their supplies elsewhere. That said, they’re kind of the McMaster Carr of bodywork. 

Enco

When it’s time for some serious business machining or fabrication tools, Enco’s a good place to start. They’ve got things like mills, lathes and bandsaws at pretty reasonable prices. I forget what I ordered from them that put me on the catalog mailing list, but it regularly leaves me drooling.

Tooltopia

Recently picked up a set of thin-wall impact sockets from them, and ended up on their mailing list. They’ve got an impressive selection of pro-grade automotive tools; the stuff you’d need in an actual service station. Wheel balancers, UV-leak test kits, AC service equipment, etc. Worth a look when the staff at Sears or your local chain auto store give you blank stares. 

Pegasus Racing

We sourced a bunch of race-car type parts from these guys when building the Uberbird. When you need things that are SFI or FIA certified, they’re a good place to start. Browsing their catalog you find yourself realizing “oh, that’s where race cars get those parts” as well as “that’s how race cars cost a hundred thousand dollars”.

Pelican Parts

A great resource for older BMW and Porsche parts, as they actually vet the parts that they offer. After a few too many wrong parts showed up from bigger suppliers, we started relying on Pelican for critical Uberbird parts.

I’ll give a special shout out to San Diego favorite Marshall’s Hardware, who I just noticed has an online catalog. If you live in the greater San Diego area and aren’t shopping there, you’re blowing it. Their rows of fasteners, high-end tools (cobalt drill bits FTW) and friendly staff tie with carne asada fries as the thing I miss most about being there.

Wrapping up, we apologize if this comes off a bit…non-technical. In my experience as a gearhead and an engineer, knowing where to get what you need is critical to success. When I was 19, my supplier world ended with Kragen, Sears and Home Depot. Knowing where the grown-ups shop has made a huge difference in my ability to address problems that go far beyond a simple replacement part.

That said, this list should really be just the start. Where do you turn for niobium wire or brass threaded inserts?

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