Australian car owners are systematically ripped off on spare parts. Here's how you can sidestep the process, and - potentially - save thousands.
A lady named Cathy sent me a question via the website recently - basically in need of a cheaper alternative to the $400 plus fitting her Toyota dealer wanted to ping her for a right side wing mirror on a 2008 Corolla.
My Toyota dealer quoted me $480 + fitting for an electric mirror for the driver’s side of my white 2008 corolla sedan. Would you be able to advise how I can get one cheaper or a second hand mirror?
Charging $400 for a mirror is flat-out extortion. There's no other position you can take on it. Recent studies point to the incredible mark-up on spare parts. You want to build a brand new car one piece at a time from spare parts? It'll cost you 500 per cent more. In other words, your $20,000 base-model Corolla will cost you more like $100k if you buy it over the counter at the dealer's spare parts department. Incredible.
But it doesn't have to be this way. You can save considerably, just by shopping smarter.
Spare parts do not depreciate like the car you own. So Cathy's five-year-old Corolla has lost about half it's value, thanks to the slings and arrows of the calendar. Today, it's worth about $10k. But the mirror - and every other spare part - still sells for the full freight. $400 is four per cent of the value of the car - one-twenty-fifth. Seems disproportionate, doesn't it? Especially when you consider the mirror in the context of the car as a whole.
Cathy couldn't locate a used mirror at a wrecker. They get cleaned up all the time, in traffic, so I guess those mirrors are popular.
Here's the fix - a brand new mirror at a lot less than half the price, delivered to your door. Use the internet for your spare parts. Buy it from a reputable supplier. Here's one I found here in Australia using Google:
So - let's see: $97 plus GST is $106.70, plus $10 for shipping is - call it - $120 (ish). That's a saving of $280, or 70 per cent off. And - according to Express Car Parts, the mirror is ADR compliant, and comes with a 12-month, unlimited kilometre warranty. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
An alternative for some parts - if you can't find them onshore at the right price - would be to locate them in one of the world's bigger markets. Say, in North America. Get it shipped by FedEx or UPS. This might be a leap of faith for some older car owners, and you have to know what you're ordering, buy the potential savings are incredible.
It took me less than five minutes to find the affordable replacement mirror in the USA using Google, although an interesting trap for young players is the distinction between driver's side and passenger's side when you shop in the USA: they have the steering wheel on the left; ours is on the right. So the terms driver's side and passenger's side can be semantically promiscuous. Better to use 'left' and 'right' - and remember, the way this works with cars is: left means left when you're sitting in the seat, facing forwards - not when you're looking back at the car from in front.
Final trap - remember that a great many automotive components are side-specific. You just can't bolt the left mirror on the right side. (Actually you can, but it won't look exactly professional.) And the same goes for many other parts. Of necessity, they're mirror-reversed from side to side.
The mirror is available from Go-Parts.com - link to the new 2008 Corolla right-hand mirror.
Shipping is included in the page below.
Anyway, the right mirror - as in, the correct one, and it's on the right-hand side - was just $45.45 (Australian dollars). Shipping adds considerably - that's another AUD $94.16. In fact, getting that mirror here is the biggest single component of the price. But landed here and delivered to your door - even after factoring in the exchange rate - that mirror will be less than half the price of the over-the-counter item at your local Toyota dealer. And it's brand new. All-up: $139.61 - a significant saving of around 65 per cent off.
Here's the kicker: everyone still makes a healthy profit from the US-sourced item. Nobody's taking a bath. It's not a scam. You're buying it from a fully fledged spare parts business designed to convert consumer demand into profit. And this just highlights the massive and unjustified profits Australian car companies and dealers earn routinely from customers, thanks to this comfortable oligopoly they enjoy by virtue of geography. All you're doing online is shopping in a market with real competition in play. And real competition drives the price south.
THE AUSTRALIAN RIP OFF STORY: HOW LONG CAN IT LAST?
The internet has already changed many landscapes - the media landscape, buying and selling, communications, education, music, movies, et cetera. The automotive retail landscape is one of the next great commercial frontiers set for a pull-through via the cloud. It's ripe for the taking, because dealers and car makers are still luxuriating through these steam-powered presumptions of protected profitability.
Dealers want you to remain dumb. But you - we - can force dealers and their parent car companies to offer fair pricing for spare parts very simply.
When the price is a rip-off, just walk away. Let Google do the heavy lifting - because massive savings on common parts, from reputable operations with international shipping solutions in place, are just a few clicks away. Better still, print out the online offer. Take it to the dealership. Tell the dealer you want to support his local business - but you can't possibly do that unless they reciprocate by giving you a fair go with a competitive price.
If enough Australian car owners did that, the price of genuine replacement parts would jump into the express elevator and hammer the 'basement' button. The rivers of gold flowing into dealerships over the spare parts counter would dry up, but few of us would cry ourselves to sleep over that.
The dealership business model is like a cockroach with its head ripped off. It's dead - and the internet has killed it - only, the car industry hasn't quite figured that out yet. Nobody enjoys doing business with a car dealer - because they know they're bending you over, and you know they're bending you over. And they know that you know that they're bending you over. And in many cases - especially parts and service, and purchasing new cars using a broker - there are better options already on the table. If you're an informed consumer.
Tell me your story. Have you been ripped off over the cost of replacement parts? Use the contact form on the website - or comment below. It'd be great to hear about your experience.