AR-15 Accessories and Aftermarket Parts – A Working Guide

For those who have seen and admired AR-15s, owning one is certainly a privilege that is shared by many people around the country. However, for many who have used this weapon for a while the urge to change certain aspects or modify different areas of the AR-15 will certainly arise.

The modifications that many people want are not to make the AR-15 more dangerous, such as taking it into a combat situation, but instead to make it more comfortable, accurate and friendly to those who enjoy this weapon as a hobby or sport.

What follows is a series of modifications that are designed to improve the AR-15 to a particular extent while not costing a great deal of money. While these modifications may not be the most elaborate, they are designed to help you get the most out of this weapon while keeping within your budget.

Understanding What is Allowed In Terms of Modifications

Every state and local authority has their own rules and regulations when it comes to the types of modifications that can be allowed. Before you make any modifications, it is very important to check with exactly what is allowed and what is not allowed. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at serious jail time.

Set a Budget

It can be very easy to get carried away and wind up paying more than what you have on hand to pay for these modifications. So before you even shop around, set aside the money that you are comfortable in spending. If you find that what you need is well out of your price range, then you probably will want to wait until you have the money to do the job correctly.

However, there are usually many “budget” solutions that provide the same type of modification and benefits without having to spend a fortune. All you really need to do is look around first before making any commitments.

The Modifications that Can Be Made

Now that you know what is allowed and what you can afford, the next step is seeing exactly what can be modified on your AR-15. Since the AR-15 uses many of the M16 parts, it is fairly easy to see what exactly can be changed and how such changes can affect the weapon itself.

Fixed Carry Handle

M16A1: Basically, the M16A1 model has a fixed AR-15 carry handle at the top that does not allow for “dialing” in terms of elevation or wind. The front site pin can be adjusted as well as the two rear aperture sights. A Picatinny rail adaptor is required for the mounting of optics.

M16A2: Identical to the M16A1 except that the handle has elevation and windage adjustments on the rear sight. A scope mount is still needed for the weapon.

M16A3 and A4: No carry handle here, but instead a Picatinny rail for the mounting of an optic.

Night Sights

AR-15 night sights are special optics that not only allow you to see at night, but also adjust for the unique conditions of darkness. They help illuminate the front sight for better aim. Fiber optics are recommended here as they are better than electronic sights and do not require batteries. Red dot or holographic optics have a lot of “busyness” that you many not desire either.

AR-15 Scopes & Optics

You can choose from the many different optics for your AR-15 that run the gamut from roughly $50 to $200 and more. Generally speaking, the $100 to $150 range should be more than adequate for your needs. What follows are a few recommendations;

NcStar Patriot Series 4-16X42 Mil-Dot Reticle Tactical Support Rifle Scope: At $69.99, this is a rather inexpensive high powered optic system that is less than 2 pounds total, yet delivers a simple sighting system perfect for target shooting, although less suited for hunting.

UTG 5th Generation 4×32 TS Platform Mini Rubber Armored Scope with Mil-Dot: At $79.99 this is also rather inexpensive, but certainly versatile thanks to its 4x magnification and simple design. This one works very well for what it does.

UTG 1-4×24 30mm Long Eye Relief CQB Scope w/Glass Circle Dot RGB Reticle & QD Rings: This is a variable powered scope or short dot scope that comes in at about $110. It helps you to aim and shoot quickly when needed. Plus, it’s versatile enough to go long range and hit targets at a considerable distance. Overall, this is a very versatile optic system.

Red Dot Sights

Choosing a Red Dot Sight does have advantages, especially if the parallax is where it needs to be. If you are going with the red dot, then you’ll need the parallax of your red dot set correctly or else it will do you more harm than good.

There are certainly several red dot optic systems that work well with the AR-15 without costing much in the way of money, including the following;

  • Sightmark Comp Tactical Red Dot Sight w/Cantilever Mount: $99.00
  • NcStar Ultra Compact Tactical Green Dot Reflex Sight: $102
  • Firefield Tactical 1×30 Red Dot Sight for Flat-Top: $81.99

Back Up Iron Sights (BUIS)

If you have a fixed front sight, particularly on an A1 or A2 model, then you may have no need for the BUIS.

However, for those that can have such a product, then you will need the best as accuracy of the BUIS is critical in hitting the target. This means that you will need the best in order for your investment to be worth the trouble.


AR-15 Bipods

AR-15 Bipods are actually one of the simplest modifications as you are adding legs to your AR-15. However, they are crafted from many different materials and offer many different varieties from adjustable, fixed, folding, swivel, barrel, rail and stud mount, and quick release. You can even choose between rubber or steel feet as well. Forget plastic bipod legs as they can shatter easily, so stick to aluminum or steel.

Gas Systems and Handguards

Arguably one of the best modifications you can make to your AR-15 is to the handguards by adding a rail system. There are three types of gas systems on the AR-15, the carbine, mid-length and rifle versions. There is also the “Dissipator” which is a hybrid of the mid-length and rifle versions. The overall design is to better direct the gas ejection from the AR-15.

The AR-15 handguards are divided into single or double heat shields that protects your hand from the heat of the barrel. You can choose from a wide variety of handguards that either cover the gas system itself for a “clean” look or one that extends down like a pistol grip that completely separates your hand from the barrel. Either way, remember that most of these products are rather inexpensive and easy to replace.

There are also quad rails which come in free float and non-free float handguards as well. Quad rails generally are heavier, but that can come in handy in certain circumstances. Free float quad rails allow you to mount optics as the device “floats” on the barrel without touching it. Free float is a single piece that does require some installation skill to get it right

Non-free float handguards are easier to install and can be quite stable with extra screws, although they are not as aesthetically pleasing as the free float counterparts.

AR-15 Grips

AR-15 Grips are one of the least expensive aftermarket products for the AR-15, yet they can add a great deal to your performance especially when it comes to endurance. Finding an ergonomic grip that allows you to better handle the weapon can up your energy over time and not allow your hand to wear out as quickly while operating the rifle.

To get the right grip for your weapon means taking a number of things into account from having a full kit for shooting prone to finding one that works well with gloves if you live in colder climates.

Vertical Fore Grips: These are grips at the front of the AR-15 that also provide many options as well. They can have storage areas, quick releases, unique angles or length, be made from aluminum, steel or polymer, have built-in lights, bipods and so forth. You can choose from simple ones to more elaborate designs depending on your preferences.

Basically, the simpler the vertical fore grip the better as you can easily replace them over time as they add to your shooting ability.

AR-15 Flashlights

Having a flashlight on your AR-15 can usually solve many problems when aiming, especially in really dark conditions. There are many different names for AR-15 flashlights, but they all have the same basic purpose.

The two main types of lights are the Xenon and LED. Xenon lights are traditional incandescent bulbs while the light emitting diode (LED) functions on a different basis. There are differences between the two systems in the LEDs last longer and are tougher because they don’t need shock-absorbing bezels. However, LEDs are still more expensive than Xenon lights so you will need to take that into consideration.


There are so many different types, sizes and designs of stocks that to include them all in a single article may be way too much. Needless to say, there is such a variety out there that you can choose the one that best suits your own needs. From lighter weight, stronger materials, storage space and more, there are stocks that fit all needs.

M16A1: This fixed, triangular stock is well suited from combat, but is rather limited in other applications which is why it was replaced with the next series.

M16A2: This one is designed to win shooting competitions as it is longer for better target shooting. You will probably want to look at these models if you shoot targets on a regular basis.

Four Position CAR Stock: This is an aluminum two-piece stock that can be pushed forward or backwards to suite the desired length of the shooter. They are very lightweight which can be an advantage.

Six Position CAR Stock: Similar to the four position, but has a slight swivel in the back of the stock and more rigidity as well. A collapsible stock, it can work very well if changes are needed in competition and the like.

AR-15 Slings

You are going to need some type of sling to carry your AR-15. There are three different types of slings available’

3-Point: This type of sling connects at the front, back and along the side as the strap runs across the length of the weapon. This is the most versatile type of sling, but is also uses the most material as well.

2-Point: This type of sling only connect to the front and back of the rifle and are usually made from nylon. Many of these types of slings are so simple that they are often called a “strap”.

Single Point: This connects only to the back of the AR-15 and some stocks have a quick detach feature which allows the weapon to drop away quickly. Since the AR-15 is hanging down with the barrel near your legs, it is not well suited for running or jogging.


Here, there are not a lot of choices to make in terms of magazines and you will have to be wary of local and state laws that prohibit the size or number of rounds that it can contain. However, it should be noted that aluminum magazines can be easily damaged while steel magazines are difficult to remove at times. Therefore, you should look for one that offers the best in terms of feeding the weapon while being smooth to operate.

AR-15 Muzzle Brakes and Flash Suppressors

There are a great number of these items available and choosing between them can be difficult to say the least. Since they all work on the same principle and are generally inexpensive, you can choose one that is more aesthetically pleasing to your eye as long as it gets the job done. Also, some states may have laws about flash suppressors and restrict their use, so be careful before you buy.

All in all, these are the basic types of aftermarket parts that you can purchase for your AR-15. Be sure to shop around a bit so that you know what is affordable and desirable for your needs.