First, we must face the fact that it is not always as simple as year, make, model and VIN. I know it can be impossible to acquire even these, but many times I would be asking for more. Sometimes much more. We work on a variety of engines and there are a variety of questions to answer to get the correct parts. Let’s look at some general applications and see what you might be asked to provide to make sure you get the right parts the first time.
For most import or domestic passenger cars and light truck applications you need an accurate year, make, model, cubic inch or liter displacement, and for anything from this century or from the ’80s and ’90s we need the eighth digit from the manufacturer’s VIN.
I started in the parts business behind the counter in 1974. I left that store in the early ’80s and by then, we were occasionally asking for a VIN number. It’s now 30-plus years later, and the VIN is needed to find most any part for a modern vehicle. Why do I always get that long silence on the other end of the phone when I ask for it today for an engine part?
Marine applications get to be more complex. Year, boat manufacturer, engine manufacturer, cubic inch and horsepower rating will be just the start. We’ll also need to know if it’s standard or reverse rotation. Some reverse rotation engines were available with both gear drive and chain drive camshafts. You might be asked if the pistons are flat top, domed or dished. Solid, hydraulic or roller lifter camshaft, oval or rectangular intake port heads and the firing order are all potential questions when trying to identify a marine engine.
Heavy-duty and industrial engines require year, make, chassis model and engine size, but these type of applications will also require an engine serial number. Parts for Caterpillar will also require an arrangement number, while Cummin’s parts require a manufacturer’s CPL number.
When you’re talking about parts like crankshafts, cylinder heads or connecting rods, a casting number will most likely be required.
When I started this story, I claimed that one minute could save you 30 minutes or more. If that one minute is used to collect the information I’ve described, it could easily save you the 30-plus minutes you’ll waste calling your parts distributor only to learn you need to contact your customer for more info before you can call your distributor again to get what you needed in the first place. If your shop rate is $70- $80 an hour, you’ll save yourself $35-$40 in wasted time. Not quite free money, but you get the point.
There are still two more points to make. First, if you guess or assume you know the vehicle information, you’re going to be wrong. And you know what they say if you assume, you make an ass of you and me. And I personally don’t like being made an ass. Given the right circumstances and a bar, I’ll do that for myself! Seriously, please don’t guess.
The second point I’d like to make takes us into the future. Have you noticed how difficult it is today to get current cataloging? Things are changing at a rate that the parts manufacturers can’t even keep up with, yet alone catalog. Plus, with cost being a major concern, printed materials are often going by the wayside.
If your shop is equipped with a computer and Internet access, you can have available the most current information. But I’m not seeing a high percentage of shops with computers or Internet access. That’s going to have to change. As we move forward, I believe, one of the most difficult jobs we’ll face is gaining access to the information we’ll need.
Many of us old-timers still appreciate a catalog. When you have the book open, you have access to several pages of info and you can compare, size up and find what you’re looking for. Without a catalog, you’ll need the correct answers to each of the electronic catalog prompts to get to a part number. Now having that information is mandatory.
This is like the snowball rolling downhill. Today I train you to give what is needed to your WD to get you the correct parts. Tomorrow you start training your customers. Get a proper work order, one that prompts you into asking the right questions and filling in the blanks.
Collect this info at the time you bring in the job. You may not need to get their name and number if they’re a regular, but get the info anyway. If the delivery driver doesn’t have it, make him or her responsible for getting it to you. Assert that the job won’t leave your counter until you’ve got the info you need to do the work and get the parts. Repair shops usually want it yesterday. Plant a seed that you can’t start until you get that info and watch ’em move.
Knowledge is power. Having the right knowledge, or information, will make parts acquisition quicker and easier. And the less time you have invested getting the parts, the more time you’ll have to get the job done and the more profitable those parts will be.