Buying Parts at the Swap Meet – Some Tips For the Novice Buyer

Buying Parts at the Swap Meet - Some Tips For the Novice Buyer

Swap meet, flea market, garage sale, auto jumble, or Carlisle, no matter what you choose to call it attending events to search out that perfect part for your restoration or vintage driver is a necessity for the classic and antique car owner. Having success at such events is a matter of strategy, knowledge and planning. After 30 years of clawing through heaps of old car parts and bins of miscellaneous in the search for parts, I have learned a thing or two. Here are timely tips for the novice part seeker.

The vast array of parts available at a swap meet can be mind boggling. At larger events such as the Spring Carlisle Collector Car Swap Meet & Corral, held in Carlisle, Pennsylvania there are literally miles of vendors. They say that to pass by each of the vendor’s spots at an event like Carlisle swap meets is a 14-mile hike. Add that to the 1/4 mile walk just to get into the place and you really need to focus on your objective. Good sturdy walking shoes are a must at a big event.

Take it from a veteran when I say you will need more than a strong back to heft your prizes home. You will find your childhood little red wagon, with a big box attached is just the ticket for carrying your parts. While you may be able to heft parts you found at a local garage sale back to your car, carrying a water pump all day will get tiring. At the very least, take a back pack.

Dress for the weather. While it may seem obvious, it is not unusual to encounter cases of heat stroke, sun burn, or even hypothermia at outdoor events. It may seem like a nice sunny, summer day, but after four hours on a concrete parking lot, you may soon appreciate the benefits of cave living. At the very least, take a hat to outdoor events. A sun baked cranium may seem like a good excuse for some of your more questionable purchases. No part is worth the price of having the medics cart your lifeless corpse from the field.

Know what you need, what you want and what you would like. Taking a list is a must. Not only does it assist you in narrowing your search, it will stop you purchasing duplicates of parts you have stacked on the shelves of your workshop. By having a list of needs, wants and desires, it will also assist in making those optional purchases. Knowing that you have the things you need frees up resources for the special little options you would like. Never ask a vendor, “Will this part fit my car?” The vendor has no idea what car you have.

Along with your list of needs, wants and desires, carry a list with interchange information. I have a little black book that fits securely in my pocket. Unlike the local Lothario, my black book is filled with part numbers, drawings and other vital information about my cars. Included in the information packed pages are interchange lists. Just because a part isn’t labeled specifically for your car, doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit. Knowing there are interchanges available between your car and others can save you money and anguish. Few things are as frustrating as finding out later that the cheap part you passed up, fits your more expensive purchase.

“He who hesitates is lost.” If you find a rare part you need, buy it. With miles of vendors at large venues you may never cover all of them in one day. The chances of the part still being there after two days is pretty slim. That it is almost impossible to remember where that first guy’s booth was is another matter. Going back also assumes that the part was not snapped up by another buyer, or vendor, while you are dithering. This is why you brought the list and your wagon. Buy it, cross it off your list, load it in your wagon, and move on.

I have lost track of the number of times I have heard, “I don’t want to lug it around with me all day”.This is why one of the first tips was bring a wagon. I have yet to find a vendor that will not let you store the part you just bought at their space until you’re ready to go. Speaking as an occasional vendor, “You paid for it. If you want to forget about it and never come back, it’s money in my pocket.”

Similarly, vendors often hear, “I saw one on the other side of the field for less”. Vendors know that if you were too cheap to buy that one, then forget about this one. Chances are the vendor saw that cheaper one on the other side, too. That is why you are looking at the exact same part, but with a higher price tag.

Imagine the wad of cash you will need to take if you were actively looking for parts. You should add a bit extra to your wad for the unexpected bargains that you had not planned on purchasing. A dozen point sets may seem a bit excessive, but if you’re planning to use the car regularly the bulk price tag will more than pay for itself. That little bit extra you take may make the difference between patting yourself on the back for your special purchase, or kicking yourself in the parking lot at the end of the day. Make sure that you have small bills. It is easier to haggle when you have exact change. Never flash the entire contents of your wallet at a vendor. Security concerns aside, it makes it difficult to plead poverty when you have a fistful of dollars.

Set your limits and know your prices. This goes both ways, for vendors and buyers. There is nothing more frustrating for buyers than encountering vendors who do not have clear pricing. Worse are the vendors who want the buyer to tell them what the part is worth. It is equally frustrating to encounter buyers who believe everything should be priced by the pound, preferably pennies a pound. Know what you are willing to pay for a part and be ready to haggle if the price is close to your budget. No foul offering less than asking price, but be reasonable.

At large events, if they have a map of the venue, get it. If they haven’t make one. At some events, you can wander for hours only to find that you have been circling the same vendors over and over. A map or location notes will also assist in revisiting vendors that may have had something you wanted as an after thought. If you have some extra cash at the end of the day, a map can help you spend it before you head for the parking lot. Your map is also a great place to write down the names of vendors and other contacts.

The best bargains can often be had at the end of the day. While it is true that vendors often do not want to pack the parts home again, waiting till the end of the day could loose you the rare part you really needed. Better to leave behind a business card with your contact information and type of parts you are seeking, or buy it when you see it.