Vehicle information far from 'one size fits all'

Jan. 1, 2020
It's time for the industry to tackle the issue of product specificity.

In a previous column, I wrote about the breakdown of communications among customers, technicians and counter people. I intended that column to be a humorous look at what has to happen between the time the vehicle requires work and the correct parts are in hand to do it. The problem was, the more I thought about it, the less amusing it seemed, and my focus turned more toward the actual difficulties rather than the lighter aspects. What follows here are a few of the reasons/excuses and stories that I’ve heard and even used myself over the years when the wrong part turns up.

If the wrong year, make or model equals the wrong part, you would think that a technician, who counts time as money, would have all the information ready before picking up the phone. I’ve heard the statement, “It’s up on the lift and I can’t let it down to check the actual year,” almost as many times as I’ve heard, “It doesn’t matter what year it is. I think they’re all the same.”

My answer to the first one is, “If you don’t have time to do it right, do you have time to do it over?” If it takes my truck half an hour to make a round trip to your shop, that’s 30 minutes of time you can’t bill out, almost like having a comeback before it leaves the shop. I’ve heard that second comment (“It doesn’t matter what year it is”) at least as often as my own name in the last 25 years. In my case, it’s usually in reference to anything “small block Chevy” or older Jeeps. If so many parts applications are “all the same” as some people think they are, then why do I need to have so many catalogs with such small print?

Sometimes obtaining the right vehicle information is not easy — even when the effort is made. I recently worked with a customer on a Dodge truck — delivered as a cab and chassis only — where the registration, emissions tag and VIN all indicated different years. When you combine that with what the tech line representative from the chassis parts manufacturer called “very misleading nomenclature” in the catalog, it’s a wonder it only took two tries to get the correct tie rod end.

Nomenclature and VIN numbers aside, there is a far stranger effect that can take place when a vehicle rolls into a service bay. There are garage doors on some shops that are really portals into a time/matter converter, where a vehicle can gain or lose 10 years, grow two extra cylinders, change from disc to drum brakes, and even sprout an extra tailpipe just from passing through. This has to be the real explanation, because if you ask why they would deliberately give you the wrong information, most service writers or techs just mumble about something being screwed up somewhere and move on as quickly as possible. I’ve had a few admit to this phenomenon around their shops, but it seems to be either localized to one bay door or it’s time related, like Monday mornings or after lunch on Fridays.

I suspect that any industry or government study on this would be expensive and inconclusive, with the blame being shifted toward the human factor. In the end, this would only lead to conspiracy and cover-up theories, so maybe it’s best left alone. The counterman is far from blameless in this wrong-part scenario, but over the last 20 or so years, I have developed my own set of natural defenses in response. My hearing has gone bad from listening to all the hysterical rants from a few select customers, so I may not always understand what is said to me. My eyesight now requires bifocal glasses in order to read the fine print, even though the catalog pages are “all the same.” I’ve also come up with a little disclaimer when dealing with certain catalogs — “Beware of nomenclature. Items listed as right-hand may actually be left-hand.”

It sounds silly, but if you can’t have a little fun at work, why go?

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