Play, Don’t Pay

How to take action in your parts transactions

You are looking across the counter, making sure to gain eye contact; you are just about there. All you need to ask has come down to this. After making the parts person’s job a breeze by bringing in the necessary information that narrowed down the specifics of your vehicle, describing exactly where or what the part does on your vehicle, you have learned price and availability. Here’s your chance. Asking for this, the parts person may not make it easy for you. Maybe the eyes you’re looking into will narrow, the expression cautious and suspicious–What will you do with this information? The person doesn’t have to give it to you, but if he/she doesn’t, it can give everything else from here on out a negative gleam. Trustworthy businesses don’t thrive under dark spotlights. And the person with the narrowing eyes knows the deepest truth of the matter, even if you may not. The truth is: You Don’t Have To Buy A Damn Thing. You have all the cards, all the power; the deck is in your hand, and you can deal if you want or walk away.

Walk away with the last thing, the part number. In this post, I aim to share how you can go into a car dealership’s parts department armed with the right tools (and if you are, confidence tags along effortlessly) and then leave with everything you need in order to go after the part on your own terms. It may mean circling back to the dealership or maybe the part is even covered under a safety recall which you had no idea about and you’ll not pay a cent while making only one visit. Either way, the dealership is a good place to start your play.

Working the parts counter, and if you walked in, I didn’t care what you knew, or thought you knew, about your vehicle. I cared what the VIN told me. The Vehicle Identification Number broke down all the specifics and if the person did not come in armed with that (which happened far too often in my opinion) then I knew we were already standing on a crumbling foundation. Everything said after that point about the vehicle’s model or sub-level might have an “I think,” or “It has to be,” or something noncommittal tacked on. Whereas the VIN, which is located on a sticker on the driver’s door jamb, on a metal plate at the lower corner of the windshield on the driver’s side of the car, on your vehicle’s registration, title, and insurance card breaks it all down into solid, basic terms. (Also, if your vehicle has ever been serviced by that dealership, the parts department should be able to access your history and locate the VIN there.) Some parts counter-people might insist they already know exactly what you need without a VIN just like the customer who thinks he knows exactly everything there is to know about his/her car, but, if you are uncomfortable with that, then tell them to use the VIN anyway and look the part up. Any attitude they send your way will only injure their customer satisfaction scores and the chances of you dealing with that person ever again. Most parts counters have more than one person working, and you might have to come back during a different shift for better options, but there are always options, even if you have to call a dealer in another state. Right now, you are after price, availability, and OEM part number.

OEM (Original Equipment) part number is like the VIN of the part you are after.

The other helpful item in your parts-searching armory when visiting the dealership is your vehicle’s current mileage. Beyond giving the parts person an idea of what common issues normally occur at this stage in your vehicle’s life, there is also an opportunity for extended warranty coverage. Sometimes when a manufacturer discovers a trend of a dysfunctional system on one of their vehicles, they will cover the system for another hundred thousand miles, for example, and give you quite the price break in a repair that you already needed. Thus, another benefit of hitting the dealer first. Additionally, if your vehicle is fairly new (3 years or so) and sometimes not, there are safety recalls still pumping out from the manufacturer. For example, at my previous position, a customer came in requesting replacement license plate lamps for the rear license plate on his vehicle. They had rusted through and were non-operational. Our dealership had already seen a number of these cases and I knew it to be a safety recall, as in both parts and labor are covered by the manufacturer and thus the dealership. Informing the customer of this, he stowed his wallet and scheduled an appointment with our service department … no financial transaction required. So it sometimes helps to give us an idea of how far down the road your vehicle has traveled.

Finally, come armed with a parts description, not a name. There are parts to the vehicle out there that even us parts gurus would call “thing-a-ma-jigs.” And the best way to nail down what you want is either by location on the vehicle or function, or both. So that’s a relief; there is no need for technical jargon. Although, an alternator is still an alternator, a starter is still a starter. And, as I learned through a most sardonic technician, an engine’s battery could also be termed an electron storage module. Thus, keep with location and/or function.

Location When it comes to picking one piece out of the thous–millio–ridiculously high number of parts on your vehicle, there are some simple options to consider:

Exterior or Interior? On the outside of the car vs. the engine or passenger compartment.

Driver’s side or Passenger’s side? Rule of thumb: Left and right is based on sitting behind the steering wheel, i.e. as you’re looking from the driver’s seat. We really have no special names for Front or Rear.

On the Door or on the Body? When it comes to interior trim pieces, I found this question a very specific necessity.

Function There is no real guided questions I can offer on this. You know what you want your vehicle to do and now it is no longer doing that. Diagnosis should narrow it down to one replaceable object at a time. Body trim pieces perform the simple task of keeping your car looking clean by hiding loose wires and steel frames.

The benefit of being in the dealership allows you to glimpse the manufacturer parts catalog so there can be an equal agreement from both sides of the counter on the part being where you described and looking like it performs the job you need accomplished, a.k.a. The Right Part for The Right Job. And now, in this wonderful day and age, over the phone can no longer be the hassle it once was when using words to convey what you are looking at and hoping the person across the line would use the same words to define/describe what you are looking at. Ask the parts counter-person if you could text/e-mail a photo of the part and/or its related location on the vehicle. Also, ask the parts counter-person if they could text/e-mail the parts catalog image of the part you are believed to be describing.

At last, you and the parts person are on the same page. You’ve been given price and availability. Now, how do you ask for the part number without asking for the part number? You want this because you can provide it to any number of aftermarket parts chain stores and their technology can interchange the number with one of their own. Please note two things:

  1. Most body trim pieces are available from dealer only (or used).
  2. A surprising amount of electronic components are available aftermarket. They may not be a perfect fit or last as long (see Seek Cheap, Gain Cheaply) but they may last as long as you need (and come with a decent warranty). Electronic components can mean anything from headlights to switches to modules.

Also, feel free to punch this OEM part number into an online search engine. You should receive results from the major online shopping networks.

Asking for a quote print-out should provide you with the part number during your visit to the parts department. If you had your car looked at by the service department, ask your service advisor for an itemized quote and that should have the part number as well. Most print-outs will have columns for quantity, a technical description and/or name, inventory information, and price, in addition to the highly valued piece, the part number.

Column headers outlined in yellow.
Column headers outlined in yellow.

In closing, you’ve come to the dealership to obtain the most original information about your vehicle as well as gaining any updates regarding possible warranties or recalls covering the objectionable item on your vehicle. And the parts person may even be willing to instruct you on the best way to install it. Finally, if you feel bold, ask for a discount. Whether you’ve purchased the vehicle here, have a friend/family member that is employed here, are a senior citizen or military personnel, or whether you’re not, ask for it: Can I get a discount? You won’t know if you don’t try.


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