These first months owning Jalopnik’s Free Jetta have been one giant headache after another, as expected. That’s not a complaint, just a confirmation of what we all expected and what you hoped for. I’ll get into my wrenching and sobbing-fit adventures in the next FreeR6 article coming soon. Today I want to share my thoughts on the best part so far, buying sweet sweet tchotchke on eBay. I’m not new to eBay shopping. I’ve bought vintage watches, 90s toys, tools, a 15,000 pack of expired Band-Aids and even some auto parts. Any parts I’ve purchased on eBay have been OEM or at least high quality. Shopping for the cheapest cringeworthy parts has been a completely new experience. I’ve always known these parts existed but never looked at them seriously. Kind of like the ten-year-old me walking past the women’s underwear section of the department store and giggling. Today I find myself a full-blown cheapskate MK4 eBay consumer and here’s my experience so far.

Illustration for article titled Shopping on eBay for Jalopniks FreeR6 Jettaem/em

The Hunt

Thanks to modern technology I’ve been able to shop for parts while sitting on the toilet at work, giving my dog a bath and while having dinner with my family. I’ve basically replaced the time I spent looking for cheap used Unimogs with looking for parts for the Jetta. I must confess it’s been electrifying. Did you know there are over 30,000 listings when searching for “hood scoop kit?” I find myself developing a strategy for my searches. Should I sort by “Price + Shipping: Lowest First?” Obviously, yes! Should I see if there are used options? Yes! If the $230 coilovers were good enough for someone else’s car then maybe they’re good enough for me at $190. Should I offer $10 for a cold air intake kit that’s clearly worth $29 with free shipping? Why not? After each score I aggressively move on to the next object on my list. The hard part is waiting for the box to arrive on my doorstep all while wondering what poor choices in my life lead me to this.

Illustration for article titled Shopping on eBay for Jalopniks FreeR6 Jettaem/em

Caveat Emptor

If you know anything, you know that auto parts come in varying levels of quality. There are Genuine parts sold under the marques name. There are OEM parts from companies that make the part for the car manufacturer. Then you have the giant aftermarket column. Aftermarket parts range from respectable options to motor mounts made of balsa wood. After balsa wood motor mounts comes budget eBay mod parts. Deciding which parts to buy for your car is a matter of life and death. You’re the one responsible for what you bolt on the car, not seller racerdude1995livinginmyparentsbasementandpeddlingpartsonlinebro, even though he has a 94% positive feedback score. For me I did my homework, lowered my standards and bought the best option within my budget.

Illustration for article titled Shopping on eBay for Jalopniks FreeR6 Jettaem/em

Qualifying the Part

When buying auto parts I review my circumstances. If i’m shopping for my commuter or the family-hauler I only buy quality parts because I’m not a ninny. When buying parts for a discarded 220,000-mile MK4 Jetta racecar, I change my strategy. I’m willing to sacrifice comfort, efficiency, anonymity, respect, dignity, esteem, approbation and a little bit of money in the name of Jalopnik fame. I’m pretty much willing to accept any sacrifice for the Jetta except for safety. The bar has been set low but there is a bar. When determining if a part is worthy of the car I ask the following questions:

  1. Will anyone die if this part fails?
  2. Will this part last at least nine months or until the engine blows up?
  3. Will this part cause the engine to blow up before the turbocharger does?
  4. Does the part really fit the car?
  5. Do I like the color?
  6. Is there a cheaper option?
  7. Where is this part being shipped from?

Once I have qualified the part I “watch” it and begin an internal debate. Do I really want to go cheap on the brakes? Front and rear pads and rotors that were manufactured in China then shipped to a company in Canada, at a profit, who then lists them on eBay for $100 shipped to me in California also at a profit? According to my calculations this 52 pound brake kit must have cost seven cents to make. Brakes that will stop my highly tuned racecar under racecar conditions. Do I buy it? Of course I do, because they’re cross drilled and slotted.


Asking these questions has also helped me skip the potholes of eBay consumership. I’ve come across countless application-specific parts that are incorrectly listed for a 2001 Jetta. I’ve avoided parts that are cheap but will take three months to arrive from the Liaoning Province. I’ve passed on parts because they put my life at risk. I’ve overlooked parts because the color clashes with the red inserts on the seats. Most of all, doing my research has saved much of the resentment for later projects when it will be unavoidable.

Illustration for article titled Shopping on eBay for Jalopniks FreeR6 Jettaem/em

Last but Not Least, My Disclaimer:

I’m not suggesting you purchase extremely low quality parts online that haven’t met rigorous testing standards, manufacturing standards or gas station mechanic standards and bolt them to your 4,000 pound car and drive at high speeds. In fact I’d recommend not doing that. Use your brain and keep it safe.


Mike is a balding fast-food junkie in California with a family, a Jetta and an actual job. He has no business writing articles about anything really. He also noticed other cool articles had italicized bios at the end. He can be reached at

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