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The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: How to Find/Where to Buy Parts
Last updated: 10/31/01

How to Find/Where to Buy Parts

Symptom: You just bought a Beetle and you have some tools, but you have no idea where to get parts....

You are not a certified VW nut unless when you drive past a junkyard or a yard full of old cars you let off the gas and do quick scan for that familiar rounded shell. Over the years, the "hunt" for parts has sometimes become as fun as working on the cars themselves. Not much matches the thrill of finding a part or stash and buying it for peanuts from someone who has no idea what it is or is just willing to give it away. Below I will list my best sources for parts, with some comments about each.

Classified Ads

Where I live, there is a weekly classified ad "paper" of 200-plus pages that covers 5 states. But the publisher is in the town next to mine. About a year ago the paper became available on-line if you established an account to "buy" it weekly (The WantAdvertiser. The weekly access charge is the same as the newsstand price for a paper copy. You can search for keywords "VW and Beetle" in several sections at the same time (VW, Antique Vehicles and Vehicles for Parts, for example). They do have a section called "Special Interest" but I have always believed that people who put stuff there believe that their car is worth more than anyone else's. I have bought and sold probably hundreds of things with this publication over the years (including selling 3 cars and buying my beloved '57). I think that such a source has the highest potential for a real "find". This is because people are inclined to get rid of what they consider junk here more so than other ways (the classified paper I refer to uses the "honor" system; it costs nothing to place an ad, you pay when it is sold).

Years ago, I contacted a guy selling a Beetle door for something like $15 and a "pair of bug taillights" for $20. The taillights turned out to be the glass '54-'61 kind. The guy said that his late father had owned a service station and stocked VW parts. I asked him if he had any other VW stuff. He took me to the closed up service station and into the back room. I immediately spotted a 36hp muffler and some 36hp heat exchangers. NOS, tags still on them. I bought the lights, the muffler and the heater boxes for about $40.

Unfortunately, those stories are few and far between, but with as commonplace as the Beetle was, "stashes" must inevitably exist in a few places. But scanning the ads takes time. On the other hand, you can usually just make a phone call and assess the goods preliminarily. Very quickly, you can determine if the seller is and enthusiast, or just someone with some VW parts and no idea what they are worth. Sometimes it is a "moving" sale, or a parent selling a grown child's stuff.

There are some ethics involved for me in bargaining. If someone is asking a ridiculously low price for something, I just usually pay the asking price. I feel no guilt, they have asked what they thought it was worth, and I paid it. If they stammer and are uncertain of the value, they may look to you for clues. I usually just turn the table back to them ask "what is it worth to YOU?". You are the one with the money, and you are the one who knows how badly you want the stuff.

Also, if you call a number listed in the classifieds and suspect that there may be more than what is listed in the ad, inquire beyond what they are listing for sale. Ask if they have other stuff. Where they in the business? A shop? Have friends who you might be able to call? It's all in the hunt.

Success with classifieds really comes down to how many you can cover. Find a good local publication if you can. Read it every week. It takes time, and phone calls, but I really think that it is where the real treasure is hiding.


About 8 years ago, I used to frequent a junkyard in mid-Massachusetts that had many Beetles. Most were in one place and they went as far back as the early 60s, with an oval carcass or two. I remember bringing a hacksaw and cutting a front clip off a '66 that miraculously wasn't rusted or punched in. I think I go it for about $35. The owner knew me well, he lived on the property and was usually out doing yard work on Saturdays. Usually I had to stop by and chat and listen about "how it was in the old days" for a few minutes before I asked to go into the yard with my tools.

One day I came on a Saturday and asked the hired help if I could go around and pick some parts off the Beetles. The fella said with a grin "uh, no you can't, Bob crushed them all". I chuckled and walk around back and down the path the Beetle area. I turned the corner and gasped. Nothing but an empty field. Probably 30 or more Beetles had met a sudden death in the giant car crusher that Bob had there. I walked slowly back to the gate and noticed, passing the stack of freshly compressed cars by the machine, a familiar chrome capped yellow turn signal squeezing out of the twisted metal. I didn't eat much that day.

The "yard Beetle" is going the way of the dinosaur. There are some yards that I have heard of, mostly in California, that are hoarding Beetles, but you are not going to get a '64 door from them for $20. But take some time and scout out your local yards. You can usually call first and ask if they have any Beetles. More and more, yards are "processing" cars (ie.: crushing) to make room for newer wrecks from which they make much more money. Gone are the days of the yard full of cars with the oldest one being the one with the weeds growing up from the floorboards. But there is always hope. If you find a good bug or two in a yard and think you may want stuff off of it later, be sure to ask if they have any plans to crush or remove the car from the yard. As a general rule, my eyes are always peeled, when driving far away from home, for those old or abandoned yards. That Beetle shell is pretty easy to spot at a distance.

If you are lucky enough to find what you need (or something you don't, but just can't pass up like a set of '67 door handles) here's my golden rule about buying at a junkyard: never ask "How much?". Always decide what is a GOOD price and go in and ask "Will you take $30 for the door?". Make a wild guess if you are not sure. Most places have general prices for common parts like windshields, doors, alternators, etc. But when it comes to a defroster knob or a gas pedal bracket, they will usually just take a few bucks for it. And I still have no problems finding yards that let you "pull your own" parts. Bring you tools in small toolbox or canvas bag and be willing to let them inspect your bag or box upon exit. Usually I bring a few screw drivers, and adjustable wrench, pliers, vice grips and some wire cutters. Some yards though, may not allow you to get your own parts for liability reasons. In this case, the price you pay will reflect any labor required for one of their guys to find and remove it.

Going "yarding" is on a nice Saturday is still one of my favorite pastimes....

VW Shows

The good thing about buying parts a VW show swap meet is that usually all of the common stuff is there and you usually don't have to look very far. The bad thing is that everyone there is a VW enthusiast and they know what the going rate for the parts are. You are much less likely to get a "steal" there. I've done quite a few swap meets at the VW shows in Connecticut. I remember once showing up early in the morning and being directed to the swap area by the show organizers. As I slowly drove my '68 across the grassy field, there was a guy walking, keeping pace with my car alongside, and peering in to see what I had. While I was getting all of the stuff out, I had a group of 3-5 "swap meet hawks" straining to see what I had. When I pulled out the NOS 36hp heat exchangers, someone quickly asked "how much?". I said "$250 for the pair." They all left pretty quickly, no giveaways at my space.

I always bring three types of stuff when I sell at the swap meet. The stuff I won't bring home under any circumstances; I will either give it away for free at the end of the day or put it in the dumpster. Then there is the stuff the I will bargain for, especially late in the day, but I won't give it away for nothing. Lastly there is the real valuable stuff. Parts that I will be more than happy to take back home with me if someone is not willing to give me my price. You can expect this behavior from most people at the swap meets. Don't expect them to sell you a shiny pair of oval door handles for $75, they'll gladly hold on to them for then next guy who HAS to have them and will pay $250. But at the end of the day, when these guys are reluctantly putting all this big crap back in the trailer, you can usually score a nice fender for $5 or less. I see these "$1 for anything" tarps often, late in the day. If you are selling and someone is haggling you for a really low price at 9:15am, just say "Ok, come back at 2:30, if it still here then, you can have it for that..." It usually makes them re-assess how bad they want your part.

VW shows are great for any enthusiast, but are an especially good way for the novice to learn the used parts market. Best to go early (as any real deals, and there are some, go quick) and stay late if you are looking to buy something that 7 people have for sale. You will get your best price just before they pack up to go home.

Part Dealers

First of all, go buy a VW magazine like Hot VWs or VW Trends, if you haven't already. Sit down and browse through all of the suppliers. Notice that some try to sell everything, accessories, engine/suspension parts, interiors, etc. Some sell just engines and maybe transmissions, others specialize in sand buggies, or busses and such. And then there are a select few that just specialize in correct vintage parts (my favorites). The catalogs that some of these parts suppliers have are an outstanding reference, to say the least. Prices on common parts are pretty consistent, but make sure you know where the part is manufactured. Original German parts are almost always the best quality, but they cost considerably more and are not always available. Many parts are of a Mexican or Brazilian manufacture.

If you are a vintage nut like me, the absolutely correct part is what you seek. You may see a body panel listed in a catalog that says "Fits '49-'65", but it may not match the '52 panel you are trying to replace EXACTLY. I'm going through this right now with an front apron that I need for my '57. Everybody sells a "'53-'67" apron, but the stamping on it is not the same as my original '57. Buyer beware.

See "My favorites" below for my comments about dealers I have had experience with.

My Favorites

Being the vintage nut that I am, my two favorite dealers are BFY and Wolfsburg West, both in the Anaheim CA area. In my opinion, these guys are the only true vintage dealers. They are friendly, very helpful on the phone and stand behind their products. My only other pick might be Rocky Mountain Motorworks. I have dealt with them on a limited basis and they seem to be quite customer focused and have a very good warranty to stand behind their parts, BUT I think that many of their parts are overly expensive, with some (mostly watercooled stuff) absolutely outrageous. Each of these three dealers has and outstanding catalog though.

So here are some comments on each of the dealer that I have dealt with. Let me make a point of saying that these are my OPINIONS and based on my own EXPERIENCES. You decide for yourself:.

Wolfsburg West

Focus: Vintage restoration parts for bugs and buses
Location: 2850 Palisades Dr., Corona, California      92880
Phone: (909) 549-0525, (888) 965-3937 {orders only}
Web site: www.wolfsburgwest.com

Comments: Well established vintage parts supplier, outstanding catalog, very knowledgeable sales people. Some excellent quality reproduction parts not available anywhere else. Prices are good, quality is very good, delivery times and packaging is very good.  can't go wrong with these guys.

BFY Obsolete Parts

Focus: Correct vintage parts for bugs and buses
Location: 1460 North Glassell, Orange CA 92667
Phone: (714) 639-4411
Web site: www.bfyobsoleteparts.com

Comments: Well established vintage parts supplier, formerly operated by Rich Kimball (writer for Hot VWs, now proprietor of "Ovals Only" and author of excellent Oval Beetle reference book). Outstanding catalog, very knowledgeable sales people, small show room but some very nice "museum" pieces there, definitely worth stopping by. Prices are good, quality is very good, delivery times and packaging is good.

Rocky Mountain Motorworks

Focus: Restoration parts for all makes of VW. Separate watercooled catalog available, both very complete.
Location: 1003 Tamarac Parkway, Woodland Park, CO 80683
Phone: 1-800-544-5357
Web site: http://www.motorworks.com/

Comments: "Lifetime" warranty on all parts. Very customer satisfaction focused but prices on the high side. Quality is good, as are delivery times. Packaging is good.

JC Whitney

Focus: Anything even remotely related to cars, some stuff not
Location: Chicago, IL
Phone: (800) 529-4486
Web site: http://www.jcwhitney.com/

Comments: I order from Whitney frequently, but have learned over the years that they sell some real garbage. Most of it you can spot from the catalog. If you call them or order something, you will get a catalog, of some kind, from them twice a week for the rest of your life. Customer satisfaction (namely their return policy) has improved significantly over recent years. They will take almost anything back, but you pay the shipping to return. Customer satisfaction is fair, but don't hope for any technical assistance over the phone. Delivery time is long (10-14 days), express shipment available, but costly. Packaging is often notoriously poor.

Parts Place

Focus: VW/Audi parts for the "everyday" driver. Water and air cooled, but nothing much older than the late 60s.
Location: Auburn Hills, MI
Phone: 1-800-373-2300
Web site: none

Comments: These guys take a beating on the watercooled newsgroup, but I have to say that my impression is that they are genuine in their mission (supporting the DIY VW driver) and really try hard. But they have a history of shipping wrong parts and packaging is sometimes pretty weak. I have only ordered watercooled parts from them. I have been shipped wrong parts more than once. They have a very nice catalog with LOTS of good technical information and tips. They sell new and used ("recycled") parts. Delivery time is not great at 7-10 days. Their technical assistance on the phone is pretty good, but sometimes inconsistent. If you order something make sure you feel good that you have conveyed exactly what you want and they have made you feel good that that is what they will be sending you.


Focus: Internet Auction Site
Location: Who knows?
Phone: none
Web site: http://www.ebay.com

Comments: Really.  I do get a lot of VW parts off eBay, but buyer definately beware.  Learn eBay, know how it owrks if you don't already.  Some real cool very old stuff there, but some crazy prices on some of it too.

Internet Classifieds- Volkswebbin'

Focus: VW Tech Chat and Classified Site
Web site: http://www.oroad.com/volkswebbin/

Comments: Good classified ad section.  Click on "The Wall", then the "Classified Ads" link.

Internet Classifieds- VW Planet

Focus: VW Classifieds, forums, gallery, links..
Web site: http://www.thesamba.com/vw/

Comments: A really good classified section, especially for early stuff.

Harbor Freight

Focus: Tools!
Location: CA (31 stores!), AZ, NV, UT, KY
Web site: www.harborfreight.com (very nice)

Comments: Ok, a bit out off-topic, but worth mentioning. I order from these guys a lot and have been to one of their stores in San Diego, CA. They sell tools from .99 cent screw drivers to multi-thousand dollar, one ton-plus milling machines. Most of the stuff is made in Asia and not exactly top quality, but if you are minimally stressing the tools, some are a very good value. A good place to buy low cost grinders, air tools, bits and even MIG welders and supplies. Shipping is free if your order is over $50 (that can be a real big deal on a $60 benchtop drill press). Their return policy is very good (they will send UPS over to your house and pay return shipping, at least for something that is defective).

I was most impressed when I ordered a pneumatic framing nailer for $199 that didn't work. The next day after I got it, I got another catalog that had the nailer for $179. I called them up, told them I wanted to buy another one for $179, and pay $19 additional for 2 day shipment, then send back my original for full credit. They said "no problem, we'll send UPS back over to your house to pick up the defective one so you won't have to pay any shipping. Don't bother taping up the box, UPS will do that for you." I was stunned. I got the new one in 2 days and it worked fine. Packaging is adequate, most stuff arrived in it's original Taiwanese cardboard.

You might also want to check out my My Favorite Links for other web sources.

Copyright© 2001; John S. Henry 

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