Niagara Gazette

July 25, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Beware the auto parts jungle (part II)

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Editor’s note: This is the second part of Tom’s two-part series on auto parts. Look for the first part on our website.

In the first part of this article I talked about the pitfalls of using the cheapest replacement parts. The overriding message was “Don’t!” But that’s not the end of the story. This column will help make more sense out of the various grades of replacement parts on the market and how to select the appropriate ones for your vehicle. Sometimes it doesn’t make the best sense to use the top-of-the-line replacement parts. Sometimes people simply don’t have the money to buy top-of-the-line, or maybe they intend to get rid of the vehicle shortly, and they just need an acceptable alternative. Today’s article is about “alternatives.”  

HAVE A PLAN

This brings us to our first point, which is that you’ve got to determine your long-term plan for your vehicle. Are you going to keep it for another five years? Trade it in six months from now? Or are you just “getting by” as long as you can? For most of you who don’t do your maintenance work yourself, it’s the service advisor’s job to help you figure out the most cost-effective way to get your car fixed based on this plan. Your responsibility lies in effectively communicating this information to the service advisor. Only then can he or she find the right parts for an effective repair based on your budget and needs. When I was a service manager I always asked my customers a lot of questions. Who drives the car? How often? Will the car be expected to make long trips frequently or periodically? Is it your son or daughter’s car and are they going to college? All these factors come into play in making a wise repair decision. So make sure that you have a trusted advisor leading you through repair and parts purchase decisions.

PART OPTIONS

There are quite a few different types of parts you can pick from. One of the best sources for inexpensive repairs is to look for used parts. A good used original equipment part can be better to use than a really cheap aftermarket part. OEM parts have carmaker specs built into them and usually perform well under the right circumstances. Your service advisor will know what is best if you want to choose this option. Obviously the part will have to be inspected to make sure it is okay before installing it.

Good rebuilt or remanufactured parts are another great option. These are used parts that have been taken apart and cleaned and had wear items replaced to return the whole to a “like-new” specification. I always look first for this type of part unless the repair process calls only for OEM parts.

So what type of repair would call for a new OEM part only? Well, years ago, Chrysler had a problem with head gaskets on their 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engines in Neons. They used a laminated head gasket that leaked oil on the left hand backside of the head. No one seemed to be able to make a gasket that would seal the leak. After several failed attempts at offering a workable head gasket solution by aftermarket as well as OEM parts suppliers, Chrysler came out with the cure - a head gasket kit, which included a redesigned laminated head gasket, new head bolts, and a special water jacket sealer. No other kit solved the problem aside from this cure. In this case, only OEM parts worked.

OEM parts can be the best choice in other situations, too. Some years ago I owned a ‘91 Chevy Lumina Eurosport. While on a business trip, my wife called and informed me that the steering was malfunctioning. The rack & pinion had failed and our local tire store quoted her over $800 to replace the rack with a lifetime guaranteed unit. I advised her to contact our local Chevy dealer to get a quote. The dealer came back with a quote for a GM rebuilt rack with a lifetime warranty for under $500. A savings of over $300 -- and from a dealer at that! These days, with the economy in a downturn, dealers aren’t selling as many vehicles so they have to generate profit any way they can. Consequently, they are very competitive in the service and parts departments.

One other thing to keep in mind is that sometimes a few different model vehicles use the same part. Since plenty of cars are built on the same platform and use a lot of the same parts, sometime parts on both cars are interchangeable. Sometimes if the parts can be cross-referenced you can save a lot of money by buying a cheaper part from the lesser brand. This requires that you work with a parts professional that knows what they are doing or else you will certainly wind up getting the wrong parts.

LOWEST COST, PERIOD

While we’ve already pointed out all the reasons why you don’t want to use cheap “knockoff” parts, there are plenty of situations where the cheaper part is the ticket for a customer. Maybe the car is old and the customer intends to drive it to the junkyard in six months. Maybe the car is rarely driven, and serves as just an occasional backup vehicle. There are many personal factors, and only you and your service provider can decide what is your best option. The key here is that you are told upfront the life expectancy, warranty, and quality of the part and how it will last under normal operating conditions. Sometimes shops will have customers sign disclaimers stating that they have been explained what to expect. Selecting auto parts can be a complicated matter.

Remember, your ASE Certified auto parts professional is a valuable resource when selecting auto parts. However, always, always keep in mind that they are there to sell auto parts. They are not auto repair professionals. Get auto repair advice and direction from an auto service professional. This business of offering free computer scans in an effort to identify a problem circuit is a ploy to sell auto parts, period. When a scanner identifies a problem with a particular performance related circuit, it doesn’t mean that the sensor is bad and that’s it! Yes, the sensor could be bad but something had to cause it to go bad. That’s the nature of vehicular performance systems, problems are usually due to a related system or part being bad. That’s why oftentimes people come to me asking why it didn’t help to replace the part? Well, because the root cause of the problem that killed the sensor to fail is the culprit and the only way to find such a root cause is painstaking step-by-step electrical diagnosis.

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.