What you need to know:
Even a new car will at some point break down and need a replacement part. Where you buy this will determine whether you are getting something that will last or not. We look at the parts market, detailing where you can get what you need.
When you are a new car owner, even the slightest of scratches gets you all worked up. Basically, you are still in this perfect car world and in a perfect world, your car will never break down. However, you soon realise that once in a while you need to fix things which of course implies buying parts.
A number of new car owners always want the best for their car so they rush to the authorised dealer, say Toyota Uganda, who politely say that they do not stock that part but shall gladly import it just for you, at a price. Mention of this price more often than not makes you realise that you definitely need to explore other alternatives.
Enter the used car market
This industry is colossally huge. Specific markets spanning huge land masses have been born. Ndeeba, Katwe, Kyebando and evidently the famous downtown Kisekka Market. Most of the cars we import are used cars and are bound to have parts that are on the verge of failing or have failed because of our car service cultures, driving techniques or simply our environment, specifically the roads.
Because of this huge market, the authorised dealers for most brands stock service parts including oil filters, spark plugs, air filters, brake pads and wiper blades. This is also driven by the fact that car manufacturers share parts among their range of brands. The non-service parts? That is where all the action is in the used car market.
Are used car parts good?
This is bit of a grey area and really depends on the part you are buying or replacing. Most parts are got from working cars and ought to be good. However, the operating word, ‘used’ sometimes makes them unreliable. Since some parts work in binary, they are either on or off, which means they do not work.
Things such as car electronics and some mechanical parts fall into this category. The other category is parts that work better than the failed part but you have no way of telling the two apart unless of course the part is broken. Most of these are parts that wear out with mileage and are probably well on their way to futility as you are putting them in. These are usually mechanical parts such shock absorbers, brake master cylinders and steering racks, among others. Additionally, you can never know how long they will last.
In my experience, particularly with Kisekka Market, make sure the part is returnable. Sometimes, you will end up with the wrong part no matter how careful you plan. If this happens, ensure they will exchange it for another working part, an option that has to be made clear to the seller and buyer. Relationships are usually built in these markets where a seller shall try to maintain their customer base by always selling parts they personally guarantee. For the most part, these parts are good.
We have to accept the fact that most cars in Uganda are over a decade old. The manufacturers no longer have inventory for these cars, specifically the non-service parts. So, we are mostly stuck with buying used or buying reproductions from Taiwan or China. Most service parts span several generations so you shall find them new at a dealers.
Know what you need
Be sure you know exactly what you want to buy before you shop. If possible, have the old part with you for comparison. Many times, the runaround of looking for a part is left to the mechanics. However, once in a while, go out and look for the part yourself. Personally, I have always found visits to these markets interesting eye openers. As recent as a month ago, I was on the verge of spending more than Shs2m to get the exhaust plumbing for my car imported from a UK salvage yard. I was able to get the same for Shs500,000 from a seller at Kisekka Market who has been seated with the same part for the last one year.
Genuine vs. non-genuine
In these markets, you will come across genuine and non-genuine parts. Now get this, genuine means original from Japan where this part was taken off a working car. On the other hand, non-genuine means made for the car but from China or Taiwan.
The general consensus is that genuine parts in this case last longer and are priced more than the non-genuine ones. This is very evident with aesthetic parts such as headlamps, bulbs, tail lights and mirrors, among others and because of this, sometimes huge, price difference, many buyers are going for the non-genuine parts.
There are some popular markets for used parts in Uganda. Starting with Ndeeba and Katwe, this is the grandfather or the OG of this industry in Uganda. Most used parts for the most part arrive here first and are sold to the smaller dealers who distribute them to other markets, specifically Kisekka Market.
Parts here are more often than not cheaper than in other markets. This market is popular with used fully working mechanicals such as engines, differentials and transmissions with some scattered retailers of other parts. Ndeeba and Katwe are the big players in this industry and are not out to play. You get exactly what you pay for.
The bad side
Kisekka Market has gained unstoppable cult status in the used car market. Think of this as the retail of used car parts. You shall find anything from the car radio screw to a fully working transmission. Unfortunately, it has received a bad reputation for selling stolen parts, even worse “fixing” bad parts and selling them as good.
For the uninitiated, when you drive there, a drove of “aides” follow you enthusiastically to your very hard-to-find parking spot and offer help in whichever form. I always recommend that you ignore these and head straight to the shops or sellers that have a physical place of business. Parts like ball joints and shock absorbers are the usual suspects. This is a wild market that requires full knowledge of what you want and or have a trusted mechanic delve into the part shops and stall corridors for you. Nonetheless, it is an excellent market for those easily replaceable parts.
Finally, there is Kyebando, which mainly comprises salvage cars that are stripped of their parts. If you have an older car or a part that is hard to find, this is one place you can count on. The prices shall be determined by how desperate you are and the kind of part you are looking for.
In Uganda, prices and availability for used car parts are determined largely by demand and supply. However, negotiation shall always come into play. Also, your level of need and availability of the part in the market also comes into play. Interestingly, some prices have been locked in by the buyer through expectation regardless of the cost to the seller.
One factor universal among all car manufacturers of sharing parts among different models has helped the market quite a lot. Many times, the sellers just want to look at the part you are replacing and they get you a working part. Other times, they ask for the car model and they get you a part.
The danger in this is that much as some parts fit, other variables might be different for instance the radiator cover. These covers have different pressure ratings much as they may all fit. Sometimes, in a risky and unsafe move, they physically try to alter a part to have it fit. It is always important to look at the part numbers and ratings to make sure you are getting the right one.
What to buy new
Just because you can get virtually everything used for a price lower than new does not mean you should. There are some parts that should never be got in a used condition and these include timing belts, air filters, oil filters, clutch disc, gaskets, piston rings, battery, and spark plugs. Of course that is not a comprehensive list but you have to use your judgement and your mechanic’s advice to know what else falls into this category.