A Comprehensive Guide to Exterior Car Parts: Transform the Exterior of Your Vehicle

By Max Anthony •  Updated: 10/07/22 •  8 min read

There are more than a few ways to add a little bling to your car. After all, with so many derivative designs and the same cars lining parking lots and streets, some minor touches to the exterior isn’t actually a bad thing. Give your car some personality and you’ll enjoy the ride that much more. 

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The best way to make your car feel like the first day you got it is by investing in some quality exterior car parts and accessories. This encompasses a wide range of items, and not all are at first visible. They’re what keep doors and panels tight on the body and chassis, fenders sitting flush with wheels, the windows functioning as they should, and all bodywork crisp and tight. 

Think of these as the accessories that do the heavy lifting while hidden in the background. This makes them a little more obscure and not the first items on shopping lists when you’re set on doing a few bodywork or suspension mods, or have the car in for repair work. 

Parts and Accessories to Consider

Car Door Accessories

You’ll be changing the doors for a few obvious reasons. Either you’ve been in an accident and the door(s) have sustained irreparable damage, or you want to go with an aftermarket option. Different door types apart from replacement factory variants (canopy, butterfly, gullwing, scissor, sliding) are offered and fit with stock car geometry and electrics. To ensure smooth opening and closing and secure locking, there are different parts that can replace old or worn and rusted siblings. Door checks and straps, latches and locking mechs and motors, as well as hinges are widely available. 

Door checks are what prevent doors from slamming against the car frame when shut. Or being opened forcibly, so limit how far the door opens. The latter can also be regulated with a door check strap. Parts can be universal or sold from the same third-party manufacturers that supply OEM parts to carmakers and are available as left and right variants. 

Doors that are sagging or have trouble opening and closing may need replacement hinges. Those that also rattle, and aren’t quite shut are the same. Hinges hold the doors to the car frame and are tightened with simple bolts, washers and nuts. Replacement hinges are also sold are left and right variants. For the right fit, look for OEM or certified OEM replacement parts. 

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Locking the doors is the task of latches and either manual or power lock mechs or actuators. Rods or cables slide within the door frame to lock or unlock the door. Actuators are located just under the key insert, and automated variants (operated by interior switches or key buttons) utilise motors to do the work for you. You can buy separate parts or complete locking assemblies for your make and model. More specific are parts that operate rear liftgates and sliding doors. 

Body Mount Bushings

While the majority of cars today are of the ‘unibody’ design, with the frame and body one and the same thing, older cars and most trucks are still of the older body-on-frame designs. This requires a varying number of (up to 14) body bushings, placed along the chassis to help stabilize the car or truck body. 

The role is also to dampen road imperfections and keep occupants inside comfortable. Worn or damaged bushings will see changes to the frame and bodywork, like gaping fenders and misaligned parts. Not to mention the trashy driving dynamics. 

Body mount bushings come in two basic types – rubber and polyurethane. Poly bushings are more durable and should last the lifetime of the vehicle. Here your best bet is to go for quality and warranty-backed OEM replacement bushings that will also ensure a smooth and safe ride

Door Mirrors

Door mirrors are undeniably parts that get some of the most abuse. They’ll be scraped, dented or completely damaged even from minor impacts with other vehicles or objects. If your mirrors aren’t operational to the point that they restrict rear visibility, it’s time for a replacement or upgrade. 

Consider whether mirrors are on the driver or passenger side, foldable or fixed, manually adjusted or electrical, and have in-built indicators and heating or additional safety features, like blind-spot monitoring. Most cars will have them attached to the side pillars. OEM replacements are exact copies of what you already have, whereas some buyers choose aftermarket door mirrors with changed glass geometry and housings to maximize rear visibility or lower noise and drag at higher speeds. 

Lift Supports

Lift support struts or gas springs are fitted to the rear doors in hatchbacks and station wagons, as well as in hoods, trunks and truck tailgates. They enable smooth lifting and closing, and it’s not until the supports become defective that you realise the weight they’re carrying. 

Replacement lift supports are easy to come by and will be pressurised for the part they support. They’re also some of the cheaper exterior car parts accessories, but make access to the front and rear of the car a breeze. Go for OEM parts to ensure the best quality in piston rods, weather-resistant and sealed cylinders, neat outer tubing, as well as easy fitment with the right connectors

Tailgate and Truck Bed Accessories

Truck tailgates come in all shapes and varieties, and you get some interesting interpretations from different carmakers. The aim is for easier access to the truck bed, and easy and faster loading and unloading of your cargo. Larger SUVs have rear doors and integrated (though smaller) tailgates for the same purpose. 

Some parts to consider here, besides the tailgate gas struts mentioned above, including tailgate locking mechs and motors to keep the tailgate secure at all times and the gear inside exactly where it’s supposed to be, clear of thieves. Though there are universal variants that fit most trucks or SUVs, it’s recommended to go for OEM parts as these will function with each vehicle just as they’re meant to. A few dollars more also means they’ll last longer. 

Powered locks require motorized actuators to lift heavy tailgates. To restore the condition of the tailgate look for tailgate moulding kits. Similarly,  truck bed mounting hardware can be used if you’re putting in a new bed. Again, ensure that parts are compatible with your make, model and production year. 

Window Regulators 

These are offered in two flavors, manual and crank-operated in older cars, and electrically powered in anything from the 1980s onwards. There are three parts involved in lifting and lowering the window –  the drive mechanism, the lifting mechanism, and the window bracket. 

In manual windows the drive mech consists of gears and a crank, whereas power windows have electrically powered motors and are wired with switches, fuses and relays to the car battery. There are different types of lifting mechs, mainly based around cables for power windows or scissor lifts in both regulator types. Brackets are tasked to hold the window assembly in place while it is opened or closed.   

Window regulators are sold in front and rear, and left and right variants, with the driver-side regulators in power windows coming in as more expensive. Most regulators are universal offerings unless specified. 

Windshield Wipers

You’ll be changing out wiper blades every 2 years on average and depending on the usage they get. Though cleaning blades every once in a while will extend longevity, these are some of the cheapest parts sold. Blades need to be of the right length, and in a left and right combo. Wipers on rear windows are often larger, single affairs. Blades fit into wipers’ arms (there are dozens of different designs) and these connect to a worm gear and electric motor to control speed. 

All parts can be sourced as aftermarket options. Related parts here are the fluid reservoir that can get clogged, damaged or punctured, and small and inexpensive wiper pumps to get the washer fluid to where it’s needed. 

What to Look Out for When Sourcing Car Parts

Like all parts, buying exterior car part accessories can get tricky, depending on your vehicle and part availability. Then there’s the aftermarket or OEM debate revolving around pricing, quality and fit. OEM parts will always be more expensive, but not necessarily of better quality (often times the opposite is true). They do however ensure that the part fits and is compatible with the vehicle. The longer warranties are also a reason for the price markups. The line between what is aftermarket and what OEM is blurred by third-party parts makers that offer the products across multiple car brands. 

Shop for parts by part and vehicle number to ensure a match. And go for trusted brands and proven quality if you’re shopping aftermarket. 

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Max Anthony

Max is a gizmo-savvy guy, who has a tendency to get pulled into the nitty gritty details of technology and cars. He attended UT Austin, where he studied Information Science. He’s married and has three kids, one dog and a GMC truck and a Porsche 911. With a large family, he still finds time to share tips and tricks on cars, trucks and more.

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