Automotive App of the Week: Rare Parts
Back in the day (aka before the age of the Internet), if you wanted to locate hard-to-find parts for your car, you had to spend hours on the phone and then more time scouring junkyards. These days, the info is just a few clicks away on the Web — and now, with the Rare Parts iPhone app, it's just a few swipes and taps away.
The free Rare Parts app is from developers of the Web site of the same name, and it helps car owners find parts for vehicles dating back to the 1920s. And while the parts the app locates are limited to suspension and steering systems, within that narrow realm it puts a world of sway bars and ball joints at your fingertips. And it's as easy to use as it is comprehensive, if a little clumsy.
Year, Make, Model
The main screen has tabs for inputting the year, make and model of a vehicle. As with most menus of this style, you have to input the model year first. This is done either by tapping a blank box and typing in the numbers or by hitting Select and using the iPhone's roulette-wheel interface to dial in the model year. On two separate iPhones (a 3GS and iPhone4), the roulette-wheel interface moved in a herky-jerky fashion and was difficult to use. The same thing occurred when selecting make and model.
Once you've selected the year, make and model of a car, you select the Application: "Steering" or "Suspension" for most cars, and "Shocks and Struts" for others. Then you hit the "Get the Parts" tab and a list of parts appears. Select an item from the list and you'll get the part number, price and info on whether it's in stock, along with a picture, if one is available.
A plus sign at the top right corner lets you add the part to an e-mail list. Back on the parts-list page, you can hit an e-mail icon to send yourself the parts list (which includes a link to the Rare Parts Web site, the company's phone number and the part numbers). You can also send the list to other recipients. Or you can e-mail the list by tapping an envelope icon in the bottom left corner of the main screen.
One downside of the app (besides the clunky roulette-wheel interface) is that all selections are cleared from the e-mail list if you exit the app — even if you just get a phone call while using the app. The envelope icon turns into a question mark icon when you clear the e-mail list. Hitting the question mark icon brings up information about Rare Parts and instructions on how to use the app. It also explains how to log in if you already have a Rare Parts account. An account can be set up via the gears icon in the lower right corner of the main screen.
Impressive Access to Information
While we didn't actually order parts, we were able to look up parts for a 1984 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer, a 1996 Chevy Impala SS and a 1934 Desoto Airflow (complete with a picture of the rare car's front-left outer tie rod end). Although limited and a bit rough around the edges, the Rare Parts app is impressive in that it allows almost instantaneous access to information that car owners and enthusiasts used to spend hours tracking down. And it beats having to take a trip to the junkyard.