Rising gas prices have weighed on auto sales this year. Not surprisingly, overall sales are down, but sales of fuel-efficient cars are soaring. But even if we wanted to buy a regular car, many of us are still slowly recovering from the recession. This has the obvious effect of pushing up the need for ongoing maintenance on our existing vehicles.

Auto-part retailers benefit under this scenario, as consumers look to service and maintain their cars. One retailer that has done well during the recession and continues its impressive performance is aftermarket retailer Advance Auto Parts (NYSE: AAP). The Virginia-based retailer reported a strong start to the year, and its growth plans stand it in good stead for the rest of the year.

Income matters
Advance's five-year compounded revenue growth rate stands at 6.4%, but in the last 12 months that rate has accelerated to 7.8%. Much of this growth is owed to the fact that the company has opened 138 stores in the last 12 months in light of the favorable conditions it is seeing.

As the company has expanded its business, its earnings and efficiency have also risen, something that is evident from its increasing operating margin. That figure has gone up to 9.8% from 8.7% five years ago.

Financial health is important for any company, especially at a time when the economy is slowly recovering from a recession. In this respect, Advance's debt-to-equity ratio has increased to 49.5% from 33% last year. This figure has gone up as the company has assumed more debt to expand its store base. The company's total debt during the same period has gone up to $437.6 million from $343.1 million. Presuming the market is as good as these signs indicate, levering up to a reasonable level like the company has, isn't such a bad thing.

Advance's free cash flow in the last four quarters has dropped to $373 million from $542 million as the company has reinvested in inventory.

Value and yield
Advance certainly looks like the cheapest of its peers, from a forward P/E perspective. Its forward P/E stands at 11.4. Peer AutoZone (NYSE: AZO) has a forward P/E of 13.6, whereas O'Reilly Automotive (Nasdaq: ORLY) sports a value of 16.1. I'm reasonably inclined to believe that the company can come through on these expectations and that this stock is a good buy right now.

The company offers a dividend of $0.24 and a yield of 0.4%, which isn't anything to write home about. But the company has already repurchased 4.2 million shares in the latest quarter and is currently in the process of buying back more shares.

The Foolish bottom line
Recently, Morgan Stanley gave a bullish outlook for the auto industry after a slightly troubled start to the year. We can expect some of the expected growth to translate down to aftermarket retailers. Considering this, the fact that the company does well in a bad auto environment, and taking into account Advance's strong performance and future growth potential, it seems like a stock worth adding to your portfolio. What say you? Weigh in below.

Shubh Datta doesn't own any shares in the companies mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.