how do i unwrap and texture separate parts of a model?

for example a separate uv map for each body part of a character?
is this possible and if so does it turn out about the same as a single uv map?

Yes, it is possible to separate each body part into its own uv map and it will turn out the same. However, having a uv map for each body part is less efficient than having 1 uv map for all the parts. There r some good tutorials on that show how u can do this.
hope that helps.

ok cool I’ll look on blender cookie for some thanks

Making only one uv map for a character will create lots of deformed uv and stretching! Just try to unwrap sphere with one uv unwrap and see how it deforms everything.

Not only you get less surface distortion with multiple uv done propery, some of the body feature that is mirror image can be stacked on top of each other sharing same uv image.