Since starting my personal automotive adventures way back, I’ve always been a fan of a good motor factor. Small independent factors like Moparts in Liverpool to postal factors like Andy Spares offer a unique place to get parts and support. The number of times I’ve been to a motor factor and they’ve told me what I need is too many to count. But that seems to have changed. But that has all changed, and now I’m using AutoDoc.
In this article;
- Changing landscape of motor factors
- Who and what is AutoDoc?
- My first AutoDoc experience
- AutoDoc parts quality
- AutoDoc delivery times
- AutoDoc customer service experience
- Finding AutoDoc bargains
- My top 5 tips for using AutoDoc
Changing landscape of motor factors
Over the last couple of decades, my interaction with motor factors has changed significantly. Once a place for that one-off random part that no one else had, or free advice to quickly fix an immobile car. Motor factors of old were a parts place run by car people. But that has changed a lot. Big names like GSF and Euro Car Parts have forced many independent factors out of business, but worse, they no longer carry piles of unique precious bits for older cars.
Getting parts for the BX has been a growing problem for many years. However, recently even stalwarts of the Citroen brand like GSF are letting me down. From declaring they have stock of parts, they later realise they don’t have to sending completely wrong parts. Supplies of recognisable branded parts on eBay have also dried up, replaced with very low-price copies that simply can’t match OEM quality.
Perhaps more significantly, my own ‘warehouse’ of parts has dwindled to just the odd belt or bearing for the BX. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a common name cropping up repeatedly, probably due to targetted advertising. So, with UK supplies exhausted and getting in before Brexit got into full swing, I placed my first order with AutoDoc about a year ago.
Who and what is AutoDoc?
AutoDoc, with its distinctive orange and black branding, is an online motor factor based in Germany with a mixed reputation. I used to believe they were a bit of a scam. With very low prices of branded parts for even the oldest of Citroens, they seem too cheap to be true. They trade through a range of online portals and email spam you once they have your address. All very suspicious activity.
The plethora of negative reviews you can find with a quick search seem to confirm that AutoDoc is a scam. Many of these reviews are shouty and lacking in good grammar. But, as it turns out, AutoDoc is actually an excellent, very cheap online motor factor with huge sales volumes. Based in Berlin, Germany, it’s a completely owner-operated independent company (according to the website speel), and its rate of growth is astounding. But despite the view of numerous online experts, who’ve likely never been a customer, AutoDoc is an excellent place to buy from.
My first AutoDoc experience
My first order with AutoDoc was a box of chance parts that had a super good offer at the time. Largely genuine BOSCH parts, including filters, fuel pumps and sensors at low prices. As I saw it, they were too good to be true, so I didn’t actually expect to see a return on my £80 order. It was, however, a gamble that paid off rather nicely.
After about 4 weeks, an AutoDoc branded box arrived. These are pretty serious boxes, thick cardboard and multi-walled construction. Nothing like the micrometre thick Amazon boxes. These things are built to survive. Which given the distance and routing they have travelled, it is very reassuring. And inside the box are all the parts I ordered. The genuine Bosch parts even have the little hologram stickers on them. Quite how a £110 fuel pump has arrived for a little over £35, I’ll never know!
AutoDoc parts quality
One of the first things you’ll note when on the AutoDoc website is the spectacular range of brands you’ve never heard of. It’s quite a minefield. While some brands are perfectly reputable but seldom seen in the UK, some are very cheap imitations of copies of parts. The part quality issue is the second biggest complaint in the user reviews on Google and Trustpilot.
Take these headlights as an example. The complete TYC assemblies were a bargain price. In fact, they were about 1/5th of the price of the Valeo equivalent, and I’ve not been able to locate OEM Cibbie made new ones. I shared the arrival on social media and was promptly told they were junk, very constructive. And to an extent, it is true. The plastics are on the thin side, and despite the AutoDoc listing, they are for a left-hand drive vehicle.
Since I pretty much knew this before they arrived, why did I bother? Well, quite simply, I want the reflectors. Of all the spare headlights I have, and it’s a huge box of them, the chrome reflective surface has failed in all of them. The cost of having the reflector re-chromed is some four times the price of these TYC units. I can quickly change the glass fronts and have the full light output from the headlight for minimal cost. And the point of the story, you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t make it junk.
Delivery times with AutoDoc
One of the other big things the “Karens” like to moan about is the delivery time, and if you have next day expectations, I can see why. The main AutoDoc distribution centre is in Berlin, at best a few days away by road. However, that’s probably not where the parts are always coming from. My understanding (and I can’t find where I learned this) is that AutoDoc uses something similar to a “just in time” delivery system.
The 2.5 million parts they claim to have a not all in one building. I know, surprising isn’t it. As I understand it, they have a network across Europe of second-tier suppliers that feed into their distribution centre in Berlin. That means you parts might have to travel from Southern Italy or the Andalucian region of Spain up to Berlin first. So the expectation that I have is that parts should take at least four weeks to arrive.
The first pre-Brexit order did indeed take four weeks to arrive, but post-Brexit parts have been arriving faster and faster. For example, a recent order of brake pads and discs all around for the Freelander arrived in just two weeks, perhaps simply because they are for a modern vehicle.
AutoDoc customer service experience
For some completely incomprehensible reason, I ordered piston rings for the XPO engine build along with the brake pads and discs. Actually, it’s not completely mad, I needed extra rings after snapping them, and ordering brakes for the Freelander made the postage free. I guess it was obvious, with hindsight, what would happen. The thin, fragile piston rings spent two weeks being pounded by big metal brake discs and arrived in pieces. I could blame AutoDocs poor packing strategy, but then I doubt many people packing these boxes are car types who would know how dumb it is to mix delicate engine parts with heavy slabs of metal.
This was my first experience contacting AUTO Docs customer service, and I picked up a few tips from customer complaints. Perhaps the main thing to note is that there is no customer service phone number. This is a bit of a blessing, really, as my German language skills are pretty poor. Unfortunately, the customer service documentation on the AUTO Doc website isn’t self-explanatory. You’d be forgiven for thinking the only option is to fill in a returns request, post the unwanted parts back and await a refund less restocking fee.
Now, this is where that early research into AutoDoc paid off. Use the online chat system. This way, I was able to start a customer service case and get an email contact. I’d had to order replacement rings in the UK at over twice the price, so I wasn’t interested in a replacement and made that very clear. The other end of the email requested some pictures of the outer packaging and the damaged items.
These were sent, and the following day I was asked to fill in the AutoDoc returns authorisation form. This is the one that suggests you have to send the parts back for a refund, but it’s not the case. The customer service team need this filling in so they can process a refund against it. It wasn’t obvious, to say the least. But within four days, I had the cost of the broken rings refunded to my AutoDoc account. Refunding with credit is fine for me as I’ll definitely use them again.
Finding AutoDoc bargains
Some of the prices on AutoDoc seem too good to be true, but they are not the lowest price you can get the parts for. If you sign up for AutoDoc, you will get very regular emails with discount codes for different types of parts. These are typically big percentage discounts. For example, a 40% discount on brake discs and pads comes through about once a month. I try to hold out for these additional price reductions before I order. Although that does mean I need to keep track of what I need for a given project.
AutoDoc also has many subsidiary websites that appear to be connected through the ‘Wemax Group GmbH’. My most recent AutoDoc order was made through “onlinecarparts.co.uk” but arrived in AutoDoc boxes after two weeks. This website also has periodic discounts, which are different to the main AutoDoc site. By subscribing to the discount mailing of the subsidiaries, you can nearly always find a discount code for the parts you want. There are quite a few AutoDoc subsidiaries, it seems, including;
buycarparts.co.uk, onlinecarparts.co.uk, pkwteile.de, rezervesdalas24.lv, autoteiledirekt.de and probably others
Top 5 tips for using AutoDoc
So, I’ve had some great success with AutoDoc, despite all the negative feedback, but there are some lessons I have learnt.
- Be picky about the brands you buy unless you have no choice
- Don’t bother with AutoDoc if you’re expecting ‘overnight parts from Japan’
- Never pay list price, always use a discount code
- Don’t stress over the customer service process, just use the online chat
- Don’t believe people who tell you AutoDoc is a scam, it isn’t, its ace!
So if you set your expectations right and use the discount codes available, you can steal yourself a bargain.
I will definitely be a customer of AutoDoc again in the near future, probably for parts for XPO!