How to Identify Car Parts

by Jack Hathcoat
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automobile detail image by Petr Gnuskin from

Auto parts numbering systems are complex and elaborate, and In almost all cases, car parts have numbers that are engraved or molded into the part. Slight modifications are often made from year to year, and although the part looks the same, it is only compatible with a specific year and model. Parts are assigned, in some cases, both letters and numbers according to their group. For example, transmissions, engines, trim, body, and electrical all have their own part-number standards.

Step 1

Note the vehicle identification number. Car dealers store essential information about the vehicle according to this number. For example, mid-year production changes have dates associated with them. Vehicles produced prior to a mid-year change have different parts requirements than those that are produced after the date. Additionally, engine size, transmission type, brakes and tires, key codes, and other model information are related to the "VIN."

Step 2

Examine the part for a part number. These numbers may be hidden under grease or oil, or degraded over time. Raised letters are easy to highlight with a marker to make them more legible. Usually the numbers are very small and hard to read, but a diligent search is worth the effort. At times, though, production numbers are on the part instead of an actual part number. These numbers have little or no value in normal parts identification.

Step 3

Hand the part off to a professional parts store and be prepared to wait. In those rare instances when searching for an obscure part or hard-to-locate gasket or seal is frustrating, work with a reputable aftermarket parts company or authorized parts dealer that manufactured the car. Both have extensive, nationwide networks and share parts information with distribution warehouses and each other.

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