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Survival Gear for Classic Car Parts Hunting Expeditions

By Tom Benford

I freely and openly admit that I am addicted to classic car shows, swap meets, flea markets and garage sales — all of which present terrific opportunities to acquire needed parts, accessories, automobilia and other such wonderful stuff that is the fodder of our hobby and favorite pastime.

Now, I have to admit that at the present time I don't actually need anything in the way of parts. But that really doesn't amount to a hill of beans in the overall scheme of things. Just because I don't need some arcane part right now has nothing at all to do with my desire to go on parts safaris anyway. Who knows — I may very well come across something that I can use to improve one of my current rides or perhaps I'll be inspired to start a whole new project based on something I'll acquire on one of these safaris. It is the hunt that's the lure even when the quarry itself is vague or totally undefined. Ah, the prospect of going on a parts safari gets the juices flowing — indeed, as I write about it now I can almost smell the heady aroma of machine grease and the moldy musk of old NOS parts boxes — it smells like victory!

OK, back to earth now, Tom! As you can probably surmise, I've been going on these parts safaris for quite a few years now and, in that time, I've learned a thing or two about how to maximize the experience. Much of that has to do with being properly equipped, so I'm going to share my knowledge with you here and now on what items you would do well to have with you when you go off on your own parts hunting expeditions.

Before you leave the house, you might want to do a bit of home work first, since a bit of knowledge can go a long way. If you have a particular part in mind, let's say a starter for a 1949 Dodge Club Coupe for example, it would be a good idea to establish how much a fair price for this part would be as well as what other starter(s) would be interchangeable. I always rely on the Old Car Parts Locating Guide from Garden of Speedin' (www.gardenofspeedin.com) for finding sources of parts I'm looking for and, by contacting these sources, I get an idea of what the price tag is from several of them to establish a barometer of what a fair price range would be. While you have your choice of either the print guides or the CD-ROM version of the guide from Garden of Speedin', I prefer to use the CD-ROM version and print out the info I need. For any type of parts hunting the Garden of Speedin' guide(s) are really a worthwhile investment in the time and money they can save you.

Available in print or CD-ROM format, the Old Car Parts Locating Guides are available from www.gardenofspeedin.com and the company guarantees you'll find any car part you're looking for cheaper. I use it before I go on my parts safaris to establish ballpark prices for the parts I'm looking for.

Available in print or CD-ROM format, the Old Car Parts Locating Guides are available from www.gardenofspeedin.com and the company guarantees you'll find any car part you're looking for cheaper. I use it before I go on my parts safaris to establish ballpark prices for the parts I'm looking for.


I also frequently use Hollander Interchange Manuals (www.hollanderinterchange.net) to find out what choices I have for alternative parts that will work for my purposes. Hollander has a number of different manuals available for the more popular marques as well as a couple of extremely comprehensive (albeit somewhat expensive) generic manuals that cover all makes and models through a range of years. For finding out your alternative choices to what fits what, however, Hollander is definitely the last word on this kind of information.

Now, once you've determined the objective of your quest, you should make a list of what parts or other items you are looking for. I'm not the most organized person in the world, a fact my wife, Liz, will readily attest to, but I have learned the value of making lists from her. Suffice it to say that having a list of items you need and hope to find helps you to keep focused when parts hunting, since it's real easy to get side-tracked and forget what you came out here looking for in the first place. Also make sure you have a pen to write with in case you want to take down a vendor's phone number, an address or other such important data.

A cell phone these days is a permanent fixture on almost everybody's hip and it's also a piece of gear you should have with you on your parts safaris. More importantly, make sure you have the number of your local garage, parts store and other mechanical specialists in your phone in the event you have a tech question about what a certain part will fit, what years it is interchangeable with, or other such information you may not readily possess yourself. Two heads are often better than one, and a cell phone makes accessing that other person's head a whole lot easier � but only if you have their phone number stored in it.

A notepad, pen and cell phone are all indispensable items to have along when parts hunting. And be sure to make a list of the parts you need so you don't forget anything.

A notepad, pen and cell phone are all indispensable items to have along when parts hunting. And be sure to make a list of the parts you need so you don't forget anything.


Parts hunting can be thirsty work, so it's a good idea to have some bottled water along to wet your whistle. And more often than not used parts will be greasy or grimy, so having a pair of disposable latex or nitrile gloves along to preserve your manicure is a good thing as well. Alternatively, you might opt to have some heavier work gloves with you if nitrile or latex isn't your preference or you expect to be handling things that thicker gloves would be better suited for.

Other essential gear for parts hunting includes gloves for handling dirty/greasy parts, a pocket magnifier or magnifying glass for close-up inspections and some bottled water to quench your thirst on those hot days.

Other essential gear for parts hunting includes gloves for handling dirty/greasy parts, a pocket magnifier or magnifying glass for close-up inspections and some bottled water to quench your thirst on those hot days.


A magnifying glass or pocket magnifier is often handy for close-up inspections of parts. You'll find one of these very useful for seeing stamped part numbers, casting marks or for detecting cracks or other imperfections.

A digital camera can often be extremely useful for several purposes. For comparison shopping it's great to have a picture on one vendor's offering when looking at the same item from another vendor; having a picture of another seller's item may also give you a little bargaining leverage if the vendor knows he has some active competition only an aisle or two away. And, if you've had the foresight to take a shot of the broken part you need or where the part is supposed to go, having such visual reference is great when hunting for it — showing the reference picture to a vendor may help to jog his mind to something he may have in his inventory that isn't conspicuously displayed. Taking a shot of a potential purchase is also a good thing to have if you're not totally convinced you want to buy it on the spot — again, taking the photograph gives you a little more leverage when you tell the vendor "I'll have to think about it" — he may drop the price a few bucks more to make the sale on the spot rather than risk losing the sale as you walk away. There are other instances when having a digital camera with you will come in handy, but I think you've gotten the idea from these examples. And the beauty of digital is that you can see instantly if you've gotten a decent picture or you need to re-shoot it.

A small digital camera is a good idea to take along, too, for reference shots of parts - this one has a handy case with a belt-loop. A 3 foot length of sturdy twine or light rope is very useful for checking out generators and alternators.

A small digital camera is a good idea to take along, too, for reference shots of parts (this one has a handy case with a belt-loop). A 3' length of sturdy twine or light rope is very useful for checking out generators and alternators.


A digital multimeter is a good piece of gear to have on hand if you're shopping for automotive electrical items. Virtually all multimeters have a continuity function built in, and many of them have audio feedback as well. So, if you're interested in purchasing a switch, for example, attach the multimeter to the switch contacts, set it for continuity, and you should hear it beep when you turn the switch to the "on" position, denoting a completely closed circuit. Likewise, the beep should stop when you turn the switch to the "off" position.

If your parts list includes any electrical parts, then a digital multimeter should definitely be part of your gear. Using leads with alligator clips on the ends makes life a bit easier, too, especially if you're on a safari all alone.

If your parts list includes any electrical parts, then a digital multimeter should definitely be part of your gear. Using leads with alligator clips on the ends makes life a bit easier, too, especially if you're on a safari all alone.


If you're shopping for an alternator or generator, have a 3-foot length of heavy twine or light rope along with you. Wind the twine or rope around the pulley like it's a child's top and, with a digital multimeter attached to the terminals, pull the rope and watch the meter to see if any voltage is being generated. Now, while this won't guarantee that it's working perfectly, at least it will let you know if it's as dead as a doornail or if it's putting out any current at all, so you can make your purchase decision based on that.

Shlepping parts around gets old in a hurry, so having a cart to tote your stuff is another item to bring along on your safaris. While I often see people with Radio Flyers or other wagons and shopping carts at swap meets and flea markets, I find these to be a bit too cumbersome. I prefer to use a lightweight, compact, folding luggage cart. It's quite small and only weights a couple of pounds when folded so it's easy to carry, yet it does an admirable job of transporting my treasures comfortably and easily. Having a couple of extra bungee cords to secure your booty to the cart is also a good idea and they can wrap around the folded cart when not in use, too.

A folding luggage cart is a real blessing to have for transporting parts, and a couple of extra bungee cords will make sure your newly-acquired treasures stay put on the cart.

A folding luggage cart is a real blessing to have for transporting parts, and a couple of extra bungee cords will make sure your newly-acquired treasures stay put on the cart.


And while I'm on the subject of schlepping, a battery lifter is another good thing to have with you if your parts safari includes shopping for a battery. While you certainly wouldn't want to traipse around for hours carrying a battery, a battery lifter certainly makes toting one a whole lot easier than carrying it in front of you with both hands until you get it back to the parking lot.

A light-weight battery lifter like this one sure beats carrying a battery around in your arms until you get it back to the car.

A light-weight battery lifter like this one sure beats carrying a battery around in your arms until you get it back to the car.


A good digital caliper is essential for wear examination when tolerances are crucial, such as with disc brake rotors. You can also use the older style pincer-type analog caliper as well, although I personally prefer the digital units for easier readouts.

A small digital caliper is very useful for measuring things like the thickness of disc brake rotors and other tasks where accurate measurements are important.

A small digital caliper is very useful for measuring things like the thickness of disc brake rotors and other tasks where accurate measurements are important.


There are also times when you may need to check out some larger items that may exceed the range of a smaller caliper, and that's when you'd want to have a bigger caliper available for use. A big 24" aluminum caliper is light weight and it can also be used for measuring everything from brake drum diameters to bumper height or any other larger-scale measuring chore.

For bigger measuring jobs a lightweight 24 inch caliper is another very handy tool to have on hand.

For bigger measuring jobs a lightweight 24" caliper is another very handy tool to have on hand.


Paint can hide a lot of things, so if you're shopping for a painted part like a fender or a trunk lid, for example, it's good to know how much paint is on the part and also where the metal ends and the bondo begins. A magnetic paint gauge is invaluable for such tasks and it fits easily into your shirt pocket, so there's no excuse for not bring one along for checking out those painted parts on your safaris.

A magnetic paint thickness gauge like this one tucks into your shirt pocket and let's you know how thick the paint is on parts as well as letting you know when you've hit a section with bondo on it.

A magnetic paint thickness gauge like this one tucks into your shirt pocket and let's you know how thick the paint is on parts as well as letting you know when you've hit a section with bondo on it.


There are also times when you'll want to check if something is out of round — things like wheel rims, brake discs and pulleys are just a few that immediately come to mind — and a dial indicator that measures runout is just the ticket for doing this. Be sure to bring one along if these or similar parts are on your needed list.

This pocket-sized dial indicator is great for checking runout on things like pulleys, wheels and such to let you know if things are out of round and, if so, by how much.

This pocket-sized dial indicator is great for checking runout on things like pulleys, wheels and such to let you know if things are out of round and, if so, by how much.


If you buy an engine block at a swap meet, car show or flea market without checking it out with a dial-type cylinder bore gauge you're asking to be taken to the cleaners. Remember that cylinder bores wear unevenly due to power stroke crank rotational thrust and ring momentum. These conditions create out of round, tapered bores, and you can measure the severity of this condition with a good cylinder bore gauge.

This dial-type cylinder bore gauge set has a 2 inch to 6 inch range that can cover most motorcycle and automotive engines. Don't even think of buying a used engine block or jugs for your bike without using one of these babies to check things out first.

This dial-type cylinder bore gauge set has a 2" to 6" range that can cover most motorcycle and automotive engines. Don't even think of buying a used engine block or jugs for your bike without using one of these babies to check things out first.


If your parts safari includes finding some wheels for your ride, then you'll do well to have a bolt circle tool available. One of these translucent plastic gizmos is easy to tote, thanks to a built-in belt hook, and accurately measures 5 lug bolt patterns from 4" to 5-1/2" diameter. So when you see a nice set of wheels for the right price you won't have to take a chance on whether or not they'll fit your axles if you're armed with one of these handy tools.

A plastic bolt circle tool like this one from Eastwood measures 5 lug bolt patterns from 4 inch to 5-1-2 inch diameter, has the dimensions molded in and it even had a handy hook for hanging from your belt loop. The set of four universal thread gauges are great for measuring bolts and nuts and the whole set of fits easily in your pocket.

A plastic bolt circle tool like this one from Eastwood measures 5 lug bolt patterns from 4" to 5-1/2" diameter, has the dimensions molded in and it even had a handy hook for hanging from your belt loop. The set of four universal thread gauges are great for measuring bolts and nuts and the whole set of fits easily in your pocket.


A set of universal thread gauges fits easily in the pocket and it makes identifying nut or bolt thread sizes easy. These gauges are especially useful if you're looking for a special-purpose bolt, an odd-sized stud or you just want to stock up on fastening hardware in sizes you're likely to use often.

So remember to do a bit of forward thinking before you set out on your next parts safari, take along the right tools and remember to have fun — 'cause that's what this hobby is all about!

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