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Firing Order - Parts guys and parts stores disappearing

Posted in Features on April 5, 2016
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I’m not gonna be one of those countless magazine editors who bemoan the demise of the crusty old parts counter guy. Sure, I remember walking into my local parts store and not seeing a computer anywhere in the building. If you wanted something, you told the old dude what it was, he looked it up in a catalog, and then either ran in the back to fetch it or told you he’d have to order it. Come back in 1 to 10 days. Dealing with an auto-savvy guy selling you auto parts was great, but I get that minimum wage waits for no business. Nowadays, more often than not you’ll get a pimply faced teen or a mouth-breathing simpleton who merely punches your vehicle info into his workstation and either finds what you’re looking for on his computer screen or he tells you he has no idea. Catalog? What’s that?

Nonetheless, time marches on and expectations make fools of us all. Long ago, I stopped assuming the parts person to know how to cross-reference, infer, search dusty catalogs, or actually be helpful in any way getting me what I needed. In fact, there’s a perverse sense of comfort knowing you’ll have to visit at least three auto parts stores to get everything you need for your project. However, the more I wrench on stuff in this modern age and the more parts I need to buy, the more I notice that the brick-and-mortar auto parts store is slowly going the way of the sagacious catalog counter guy. And why the hell wouldn’t it? If all they’re gonna do is punch your info into a computer and tell you to come back tomorrow when the part is there, what good are they? Why should you have to burn gasoline, waste time, and undergo aggravation when you can just grab your tablet and do the same thing from the comfort of your garage? That’s what I’ve been doing lately.

Most recently I was doing some work on my wife’s vehicle. It sprung a leak and needed a new radiator. I called around a few local places and after answering the standard “year, make, and model” question a half dozen times from three or four different places I discovered the soonest any of them could get me a new radiator was three days. “Come on down and we’ll take your money, place your order, and then have you come back and pick it up when it arrives.” No thanks, buddy. I went online and found the radiator I needed through Amazon Prime (free next-day shipping!) and less than 24 hours later I had the what I needed for $30 less than the best local price I was quoted and a full two days sooner than any of ’em could make it happen. I didn’t have to take an hour out of my day, burn $20 in fuel to go fetch it, or wait in line behind some sketchy looking dude buying Vanillaroma air freshener, electrical tape, and a turbocharged butane lighter.

In the end, will drop-ship places like Amazon or eBay really kill off the auto parts store? Probably not, but they may severely alter what an auto parts store is much in the same way more reliable vehicles altered the gas station. After all, how many gas stations now have a convenience store attached to them instead of a mechanic’s garage?

-Christian Hazel

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