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Perils and pitfalls of providing parts

July 16, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The lady was adamant. She wanted to know what we would charge to replace her front axle, which she planned to buy for $65 from the local discount auto supply store. Regular readers know how we feel about this. We don't want to install parts that we don't provide, and it's not just that we don't make a profit on the part. It's because it usually results in us wasting our time and the customer's money, by installing inferior parts, or parts that were not necessary or did not fix the problem the customer was concerned with, and we get the brunt of the anger from the dissatisfied customer.

If the part turns out to be defective, we have to charge labor for replacing it again, because we didn't have any profit from the first time to use as a cushion toward the second time. Yes, she could buy it for $65 whereas we would charge $90 for it, but if we provided the part, the whole job would be guaranteed, for labor and parts. In this case, our argument finally prevailed, and she agreed to let us provide the axle.

When she brought the car in, our inspection showed that her axles were fine; she had a bad wheel bearing making the noise she was concerned with. Had we simply installed her axle, as she had requested, her problem would not have been fixed, she would be out the $65 plus our labor charge, and she would have been angry with us for costing her money without fixing her problem. That's why we don't like to do it that way. The people she should be angry with are her "mechanic" friends who told her to get an axle, but she can't be angry with a friend who were just trying to help, so we're the easiest target. We get that. That's why we resist the job, even though sometimes the person goes off in a snit, cursing us for trying to "rip them off" by charging more for the part than they could get it for elsewhere. Hold that thought; more on this later.

To add insult to her injury, we also found that she had been the victim of shoddy repair work. A brake caliper was improperly mounted, causing excessive wear and needing replacement. Her ball joints had been replaced, but with no grease in them, and no cotter pin installed to prevent them from falling out. We got permission to replace the caliper, at no additional labor charge (although again, she wanted to buy her own). We greased the ball joints and installed cotter pins at no charge. Her bill was larger than she had hoped for, (aren't they all?), so she was not a happy camper, but probably not as unhappy as she would have been had we done her original bidding.

It's not her fault, of course. She's just trying to save some money. She just took amateur advice when she needed a professional opinion.

It's true that the public can get parts for the same price that repair shops pay. Parts stores, both virtual and brick and mortar, desperate for sales, will discount to anyone. That's understandable, but only "do-it-yourselfers" should buy their own parts. You can certainly buy eggs cheaper at a grocery than at a restaurant, but bringing your own eggs to a restaurant is not gonna happen. If you're going to buy your own eggs you need to do your own cooking, or be real nice to someone you want to cook for you.

Repair shops, like restaurants, cannot keep the doors open selling things at cost. Their true value to society is their expertise, not necessarily their parts pricing. Restaurants provide the shopping, the storing, the cooking, the serving and the cleaning up. Not just the eggs. The "chefs" at the repair shop do all of that (except the cooking), and have expertise in what your car needs, and what it doesn't need.

If you let the pros do their stuff, a good omelet is worth more than the price of the eggs. Enjoy.



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