Monday, March 10, 2008

Buyer's Guide to Parts and Supplies (Part 2 of 2)

Sources for Parts

There are many sources for the parts you will need. Where you shop for parts will be determined by what kind of parts you need, how much you want to pay, and the types of stores in your neighborhood.


New vehicle dealers usually have parts for your vehicle, but the prices are usually higher than other sources. The dealer carries what are known in the auto trade as Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts. OEM parts are those supplied by the vehicle manufacturer and are the same parts installed on the vehicle when it was built. Because of the higher overhead expenses, these parts are generally a little more expensive than the same item available through other outlets.
The higher cost of OEM parts does not necessarily indicate a better value, or higher quality. Automotive jobbers and auto discount stores regularly stock high - quality replacement parts in addition to OEM parts. Although manufacturers will recommend that you use OEM parts for replacement or service work, they will also specify that you can use an equivalent replacement part. Many replacement parts are made by or sold by reputable companies and are built to the same specifications as OEM parts. In many cases, replacement parts may even be identical to OEM parts, since many parts manufacturers sell parts to vehicle makers as OEM parts and also sell the same part to other companies, who market the part under a different brand name. The parts you have to be careful of are "gypsy" parts, which are discussed later in this section. Fortunately there are very few of them.

There are some parts for your vehicle - cylinder heads, crankshafts, body parts, and other slow movers - that you will be unlikely to obtain anywhere but at your dealer. These parts are not sold in sufficient quantities to make it attractive for any other outlet to stock them. Many of these parts may be special ordered.


Your local service station can supply you with many of the common parts you require; though they stock these parts mainly for their own use in the repair end of the business. The problem, from the consumer's standpoint, is the cost - it will be high. The reason is that the service station operator buys the same part from a jobber that you can buy over the counter. Although he buys at a discount, he must make a profit on the resale of the item, whether through direct sale of the item or as part of repair charges. Really, when your service station sells parts to you over the counter, they are competing with the local parts stores and discount merchandisers, and most service stations do not buy or sell parts in sufficient volume to offer a competitive price. They are in business to sell "service," not to sell parts.


The local parts jobber, who is usually listed in the yellow pages or whose name can be obtained from the local gas station, supplies most of the parts that are purchased by service stations and repair shops. He also does a sizeable business in over - the - counter parts sales for the do - it - yourselfer, and this may constitute as much as 30% to 50% of his business.
The jobber usually has at least two prices - one for the local mechanic or service station and an over - the - counter retail price. The reason for this is that local mechanic, like the service station, does not pay the retail price for a given part. They pay less than retail (a mechanic's discount may range from 15-40% depending on the item) and mark up the price of the part to their customer, making a profit on the resale. Many jobbers will offer you a 10%-15% discount off the retail prices on over - the - counter sales, and most jobbers run periodic sales on both private brand and brand name do - it - yourself items.

The prices charged by jobbers are usually lower than the new vehicle dealers and service stations but slightly higher than discount or mass merchandisers. The reason is that the jobber is used to dealing with professional mechanics and usually sells name brand or OEM parts. His volume is such that he sells more than a service station, but less than a discount merchandiser does, and thus his prices fall somewhere between the two. The people who work the counters in the jobber stores and discount stores know about vehicles - often more than the salesperson in the auto section of a department store. Unless they are extremely busy or very rushed, they can usually offer valuable advice on quality parts or tools needed to do the job right.


Almost every community has one or more convenient automotive chain stores. These stores often offer the best retail prices and the convenience of one - stop shopping for all your automotive needs. Since they cater to the automotive do - it - yourselfer, these stores are almost always - open weekday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays, when the automotive jobbers are usually closed.
Chain stores are the automotive "supermarkets." Hardly a week goes by that they are not running advertised specials or a seasonal promotion of some type. The ads normally appear in the local newspapers and offer substantial savings on both name and store brand items. In contrast to the traditional jobber stores, where most merchandise is located behind the counter, you can walk through the auto chain stores and browse among most products, picking and choosing from a large stock of brand names.

Prices in the auto chain stores will normally be competitive with the discount stores and mass merchandisers, and they will usually be slightly lower than the jobber will. Counter personnel working in the chain and jobber stores are usually familiar with their products and common automotive problems and can offer good advice.


The lowest prices for parts are most often found in discount stores or the auto department of mass merchandisers, such as K - Mart, Sears, and Wal - Mart. Parts sold here are name and private brand parts bought in huge quantities, so they can offer a competitive price. Private brand parts are made by major manufacturers and sold to large chains under a store label.
You have to have a good idea of what you're looking for when you buy from these outlets. Many are self - serve, in direct contrast to the older, traditional jobbers where they still look up the part number and get the part for you.


Wrecking yards, junkyards, salvage yards, previously owned parts yards - call them what you will - are good sources of parts, particularly for older vehicles or limited budgets, although most parts available from salvage yards are beyond the scope of this book. Auto wrecking yards range from the incredibly sophisticated computer - run inventories to stumblebum one - man operations where nobody knows exactly what they have except the inevitable snarling dog.
In most cases, don't expect the wrecking yards to supply the smaller parts. They prefer to deal in complete assemblies. Among the better deals in wrecking yards are engines, transmissions, rear axles, body parts, and wheels. The cost of these parts from a yard is generally about one - half the cost of new parts. Most junkyards are not interested in selling carburetors, voltage regulators, and other small parts, but if they do, their cost will be negligibly less than the cost of rebuilt parts, and rebuilt parts are a far better deal.

Some wrecking yards may have two prices - one if they remove the parts and one if you do it. Most yards will prefer to remove parts themselves, but be careful. Time is money when removing parts, so a lot of yards, particularly the less organized, will remove an engine or rear axle with a cutting torch instead of unbolting it. This makes it necessary for you to buy small parts, such as motor mounts, brake lines, spring hangers, and other hardware, that were destroyed by the cutting torch.

Kinds of Parts


Many times, you will be required to return your old starter, alternator, fuel pump, or carburetor when you buy a new one. These old parts are returned to a professional parts rebuilding service and are reconditioned to be sold over the counter as remanufactured or rebuilt parts.
Most parts stores will carry both new and rebuilt parts. There is nothing wrong with buying remanufactured parts. Many are just as good as the new ones but can be bought at considerable savings. Compare the price and guarantee on a remanufactured part with that of a new part. In general, the higher the quality of a remanufactured part, the closer the price will be to a new part and the better the warranty.

Inordinately low prices for remanufactured parts usually mean shorter parts life and earlier failures. In this case, it will be worthwhile to spend a little extra money for higher quality.


Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware - was a reasonable attitude when the buyer could easily judge the quality of the merchandise he was buying.
However, as automobiles have become increasingly sophisticated, with electronic engine control systems and other hi - tech hardware, there are fewer manifestly clear ways by which to judge the quality of replacement parts.

Reputable manufacturers of replacement parts have built their reputations of repeat business. Their products meet or exceed the Original Equipment (OE) specifications. If they don't perform, you're not going to come back and buy many more of the same. Counterfeiting, as applied to auto parts, is a broad term that covers any form of deception designed to trick the buyer into believing that he or she is purchasing a part produced by the original equipment manufacturer or a reputable aftermarket manufacturer.

Counterfeit products should not be confused with "generic or no - brand" products such as those found in the food industry. It's fully understood that these types of products are not branded products. The key to counterfeit parts lies in the fact that no attempt is made to identify the source of manufacture and that the counterfeit part and packaging closely resembles the real thing.

Packaging of reputable parts manufacturers is often unique and highly recognizable, but those who buy replacement parts by appearance or packaging alone should beware. Counterfeit parts are made to look like the real thing both in packaging and in appearance.

Counterfeit packaging usually involves the unauthorized use of a registered trademark on the packaging or the simulation of a part using original equipment characteristics and is designed to pass off generally sub - standard parts as the genuine article. Counterfeit parts have the right number of wires and connectors. They look official, durable and reliable.

However, looks are deceiving. Not only can counterfeit parts cost you money in the long run, due to premature failure or an unknown manufacturer who will not guarantee the part's performance, the shortcuts often taken in the manufacture of counterfeit parts could jeopardize your safety or the vehicle's performance. Some counterfeit brake shoes have been found deficient in braking power. Some counterfeit gas tank caps have no safety valves, designed to prevent spillage and fire in case of an accident.

How can you recognize counterfeit parts? Often, it's extremely difficult.

Buy brand - name products. A name brand manufacturer's reputation for quality can only have been earned by selling quality merchandise.
Be suspicious of packaging that very closely, but not exactly, replicates the packaging of a known, name brand manufacturer.
Recognize that in a competitive marketplace, there will be variations in price among reputable manufacturers. Nevertheless, be suspicious of extremely low prices.
If someone other than you is installing the part, ask to see the package in which it came. Even mechanics are not immune to assuming, mistakenly, that they are buying name brand replacement parts.
If possible, compare the original equipment part with the replacement part before purchasing the replacement part. There are often subtle differences between counterfeit and original equipment and reputable replacement parts.

Using Automotive Catalogs
See Figure 1

To a person looking for a part for his or her vehicle, the catalog is the most important tool to know how to use. Automotive parts catalogs are what you make them - a confusing foreign language or an easy - to - understand reference to get the correct part number, and price the first time.

Almost all manufacturers of hard parts make a catalog listing the part number, application, and sometimes the price of the item. The catalog may take the form of a large book with thousands of entries if the manufacturer makes many parts for a lot of applications, or it may be as simple as a single card if the manufacturer has relatively few variations. If you are purchasing oil filters, air filters, PCV valves, belts, hoses, and similar common parts, you will usually find the catalog near the merchandise in the parts store, though from time to time they will disappear. Wherever they are located and whatever form they take, learning to use them will assure that you get the correct part the first time, saving a lot of time and energy to return parts that don't fit.

With the age of computer databases, more and more parts look - up is done via a terminal on the parts counter. It is important to supply the operator with the correct information regarding your vehicle as discussed earlier. He will enter the vehicle only one time and have access to many different manufactures parts, as opposed to looking up the vehicle, then the part in individual printed catalogs. You may also find mini - computers in product locations on the sales floor for filters, batteries, wiper blades, etc. Figure 1 Parts catalogs, giving part number and application, are provided by manufacturers for most replacement parts


Catalogs normally contain a descriptive and dated (sometimes - coded) cover, a table of contents, index, illustrations, and then the meat of the catalog, the applications. The applications are normally arranged two ways: (l) alphabetically by vehicle name, and (2) numerically by part number. Jobbers may store their catalogs using the Weatherly filing system, a three - digit number on the front of the catalog, but this is of little interest to the do - it - yourselfer. What does interest you is the alphabetical listing of vehicles by make and model.
Many manufacturers print their parts catalogs every year, but some only print every two years and supply a supplement during the off year. It is essential to check the date of the catalog to be sure it has the latest information. Working with an outdated catalog is sometimes worse than working with no catalog at all.


Let's say you want to look up the spark plug for your 1996 Jeep Cherokee with a 4.0L engine. The first thing you do is find a spark plug catalog and check the date to make sure it is current. Then you look in the index for "Jeep." In this particular catalog, there is no listing by make and model in the index. The spark plug applications are broken down by Automobiles, Vans / Trucks & Buses, and several other listings. If you have an SUV or sport utility vehicle it may be listed either in the Car or Automobile section or in the Truck section depending upon the manufacturer. In this case, turn to the page starting Vans, Trucks & Buses.
Under Vans, Trucks & Buses, you'll find they are broken down into individual makes starting with Acura and working back to Volkswagen. Scan the pages until you find the heading Jeep. Under Jeep, you'll find the applications are further broken by model and year. And then 4 - cylinder and 6 - cylinder engines. Your Jeep is a 1996 Cherokee and has a 6 - cylinder, so look under the appropriate heading. Read across the column from the L6 4.0L entry and find the number of the spark plug.


See Figure 2
If you have trouble deciphering the abbreviations used in the parts catalog, they are usually identified in the front of the catalog.

The biggest distraction in all automotive catalogs is the footnotes. Asterisks, daggers, numerals, and letters that appear after a part number or listing indicate that you are up against a footnote. If such a notation is present, you must look further for more information. Most likely, you will go to the bottom of the page for an explanation of why the notation was used. In addition, the explanation could be almost anything. Special kits, superceded parts, special applications, and a myriad of other pieces of information all are deserving of footnotes. To get the right part for your vehicle you cannot afford to skip over the footnotes. Figure 2 Catalog footnotes are important. They may contain replacement part numbers and other pertinent information.


See Figure 3
Many catalogs include a cross - reference so you can double check information. A cross - reference could be from original equipment to independent supplier part numbers, or to application by part number.

Caution should be used when cross - referencing parts. While Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to an aftermarket part number is often a very accurate reference, aftermarket - to - aftermarket references should be double - checked by that particular manufactures application guide.

Figure 3 It is a good idea to check the actual number on the part, against the application catalog.


Catalogs are designed for using, not confusing, but it is not unusual for catalog users to make mistakes in tracking down part numbers. Simple goofs are the most common and costly. For instance, often the user will find the correct listing, but then he or she reads across the wrong line. On the other hand, sometimes everything is done correctly, but a mistake is made in copying or trying to remember the part number. Alternatively, you can be mixed up in using a cross - reference, or working with an outdated catalog, or overlooking a footnote. Such mistakes happen every day to even the most experienced. All you can do is try your best to avoid them.

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