By Joe Marconi
It's no secret that Home Depot changed the Hardware Store business. Are we seeing the same thing occur with the auto parts industry? Will Wall Street dictate the future of the parts business? Main Street, not Wall Street once dominated our business landscape.
Part stores were part of the community. Did they cater to the DIY? Of course they did. But the DIYer was someone who could actually work on his car, not the weekend warrior who has no business sticking his head under the hood. And why does he attempt to stick his head under the hood? Because companies like Advance and Auto Zone tells them they belong there. Don't know how to install your alternator, no problem, click on this video and we will show you Mr. DIY.
There is no stopping big business and what mass consolidation will do to our industry. But, guys like me don't have to like it. The truth is Home Depot may have shifted their industry, but it also made a select group of business owners only stronger. The same may happen in the parts business.
Big Parts Guys, if you truly want OUR business, you need to stop catering to the DIY market and insulting us by telling us the DIYer is not our customer. The motoring public hears your commercials, they see you ads, they get your discount flyers in the mail. So, stop the insults. I would have more respect if you just come clean.
My guess, nothing will happen. The big guys won't change when money gets in the way. When home town and Wall Street collide, Wall Street usually wins. Usually, but not always.
Going on a Diet
“I’ll have two Fords, a Dodge, and one Toyota please. Oh, and I could go for a Cadillac later on.” The more trucks I repair, the more I’m apt to want to do more. One of these days I might have to seriously think about going on a diet. Too much to know, too much to do, and I’m not getting any younger. I’m not sure what they say about old dogs and new tricks is true, but they forgot to mention about adding on pounds slows ya down. However, with cars and trucks, the size changes, the horse power level changes, fuel economy, and luxury items all go through improvements each year. Nothing slows down the advancement of technology, not even a few extra pounds.
In the automotive world, technical and mechanical changes are a constant thing. For me keeping up with those changes is like going to the gym. It’s a constant physical, as well as mental effort that can wear a guy down with all the new stuff he needs to know, the systems variations, and the amount of work needed to get to certain components.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve put on a few pounds over the past 3 decades. I started out as a skinny kid and now, well… ain’t no kid anymore, and I sure ain’t skinny either. But have ya noticed the shape and size of the cars over the years seems to gain weight too? Then, a few years later they’re back on some sort of diet? Model T’s were small compared to the modern car. But, by the time the 40’s and 50’s came along the size of the car had increased. The model T was squarer and boxy looking compared to the more rounded body lines of the cars from the 40’s and 50’s. Well… except for those tail fins, but that’s a whole different story.
The look of the car changed again in the 60’s too! The styles seemed to reflect both rounded and straight designs, and the weight of the average car was a lot less than the older models. Then, by the late 70’s and 80’s car styling was back to the sharp edged crisp body lines, and the cars seemed to be on a different type of diet; this one was more of a fuel economy and emission diet. Of course, I don’t know for sure but, whatever the reason you could certainly tell the difference. Do you remember the Mustang Ghia II? Was that even fair to call it a Mustang? That was one car that wasn’t so much on a diet but more of an anemic excuse for a car.
Seems every decade or so designers and engineers go on some sort of diet and scale back cars to smaller and smaller models, but later on the size and shapes grow again. Along with the size changes, seems nobody can settle on what is a standard, economy, or compact size. What was once a compact size turns into the standard size and the economy car becomes more of a compact. I’ll never figure it all out myself. But, somewhere along the way they give up on the diet and all the designs fatten up again. Just look at the standard pickup over the last few decades.
I used to be able to see over the hoods of most of the standard pickups, heck some of the compacts I could even see over the roof lines too! But now, even what used to be just a small import truck has reached enormous mammoth proportions. Look at the Toyota pickup, it’s twice the size it was just 10 years earlier.
As far as working on trucks, the 60’s through the 80’s models for the most part, I could lean over the fenders and change the plugs or even a belt without having to resort to standing on the upside down milk carton. After putting on a few pounds I find it a bit harder to lean over those fenders, and standing on that shaking milk carton is making me think of going back on my diet again. With some of these bigger and better models, I should think about installing a scaffold and safety harnesses just to get to the air filters.
Some of the truck models have gone from what I would regard as a regular size to a XXXL in size. Then add the big fat tires, jacked up bodies, and you’ve got yourself a street legal monster truck. But jump up there and look under the hood. There’s no room for anything else, it’s jammed packed! If you’ve got anything substantial to do under the hood, such as a headgasket you’re better off just taking the entire cab off and hang it from the lift. Now you’re talking some real “under the hood work”!
So what’s next? Are the engineers going to go back on that diet and start coming up with skinnier, sleeker designs? Or, are they going to keep adding more and more to them until they’re all so huge that the salesman has to bring out a step ladder just so you can go on a test drive? Where’s it all end?
All this getting bigger and better has led to some changes at the repair shop, too. Some shops aren’t equipped to remove the cab of a truck to do some of the service work. It’s kind of a forced diet in a way. But, there are several other reasons shops today have gone to this regimented diet, and it’s not all because of the size either.
One reason for this self-imposed diet is the cost of the various scanning equipment to properly repair these over inflated computers on wheels. Not only are the prices varied, but the monthly/yearly fees to keep that tool up to date is another issue, and as technology advances so does your scanner inventory. Even though the scanner you have now is in perfect working order, the cars that it was designed to service have started to dwindle from the highways.
Technology doesn’t just bring changes for the consumer, but for the mechanic as well. New systems, new ways of doing old things, and new equipment are just a small part of the changes that occur. There seems to always be a newer design that mimics an older system although more stream lined efficiency. Very seldom do things remain the same. The way I’ve got it figured, there’s a mild change every five years and a more dramatic change in technology about every ten years.
The engineers and designers may do what I plan on doing, and that’s go on a diet. But, we all know… most diets don’t last long, and I’ll eventually put all the weight back on that I lost… and then some. If the history of the automotive world is any example of what may come in the future with the next generation of truck designs… the results may end up just like my diet. Go figure…
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By Joe Marconi
The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Atlanta-based The Home Depot is seeing success with its pilot program for the automotive Do-It-Yourself (DIY) market. The company currently is running the pilot program in about 50 stores. Home Depot originally launched the pilot program in 10 stores in 2006. The home improvement retailer has dedicated about 500-square-feet of floor space to auto products, including motor oil and fuel additives.
It is hard to imagine how Home Depot sees opportunity in the DIY market. I was under the assumption that companies such as Advance and AutoZone are working to form a strong alliance with the commercial trade. What does Home Depot know that others do not?
Here is a link to an article and source.
A well-worn Chevy pickup is left at the side of the shop one day. The keys were slipped into the drop slot with a detailed note. The note said, “I put a new starter on a few days ago, and now it doesn’t start at all, so I know it’s not the starter. It’s got to be an electrical problem.”
Oh, those famous last words of every weekend wrench bender/self-helper that I’ve ever had to deal with when their Saturday afternoon efforts fall short of their expectations. It’s never what they have just done, it’s always something else.
The story can be different, but they all have the same line to describe the problem with few details changed. You can pick yours from the list and fill in the blank. As the story begins with:
”I changed the part that……………… (Choose the appropriate response from the list below.)
A. My buddy said it was.
B. The parts guy told me it would fix it.
C. I read about it on the internet.
D. The last shop told me to change.
Or, all the above.
(Insert your choice of answers here) _______ ,so I know it’s not that.”
I doubt there will ever be a time that I’ll take their word that everything is OK. I’m going to recheck it anyway, if for nothing more than my own peace of mind. Most of these “self-helpers” will read their manual and follow directions to a point. But, when it gets confusing, or into a spot where they don’t have the right tool, or don’t understand the procedures they skim over that section and blindly go onto the next page. Books are great for information, but it still takes a bit of the artistry (if I dare call it that) to work with hand tools and the limited access on some of these problems. Call it my “OCD of automotive repair”, but I always figure it’s best to check things out when you’ve got somebody “helping” you with the repairs.
The next little tidbit of information left on the note is simply priceless. It said, “I left the manual open to the page you’ll need. It explains exactly what you’ll need to do to fix it.” Well, well… ain’t that just thoughtful of him, leaving the page marked for me. I’m grateful, dumbfounded, and perplexed as to why this is necessary. You’ve helped yourself to a manual, given up on the project, and feel it necessary to have the mechanic read the instructions! I’ve lost count how many times I’ve found an open service manual on the passenger seat with a note telling me where to find the proper information. I often wonder why they didn’t bother to look themselves. They had the page marked? Obviously they read the manual. So why not do a little more research and put those old, rusty tools to good use? Wait a minute… I got it; you’re only trying to help, must be that self-help concept coming through again. (Note to self: The next time I go to the dentist I’ll bring a copy of the instructions for him too. I’ll just lay them on my chest as he tilts the chair back. Of course the page will be marked so he can read up on how to do his job. I’m sure he won’t find it insulting either.)
The scenario continues. As of now the job of finding out what is wrong with this truck has been elevated from the household garage or apartment complex parking lot to an actual automotive repair shop. One with professional level tools, scanners, and diagnostic manuals. Exactly what kind of miracles will be performed in those catacombs of the service bay? It’s a mystery to all those weekend home garage groupies. I’m sure they’re all saying to their fellow backyard ratchet buddies, “Those guys charge too much, it ain’t that hard to fix cars these days. Why we could have fixed it if he would’ve left it here.” Yes, in some respects, it really isn’t that hard. All it takes is a few years of training, a couple of modern tools (Definitely not some swap meet-imported toolset that came in a blister pack.), and the ability to think and reason through all the technical information (mechanical ability), and yes… a little less help from the rusty wrenchers with no experience from the house on the corner lot. Other than that… it ain’t hard at all.
There are generally two things that happen when the novice self-helper helps out. Either they are way off base on the problem/solution, or they’ve caused even more of a problem than they originally started with. It never fails. This little episode of “self-help” was no different. After checking things out (properly) the end result was a text book novice disaster. Number one: he used a cheap remanufactured starter that he over tightened the connectors on and stripped the nut to the solenoid. Number two: the starter signal lead on the solenoid was grounding out against the engine block from his failed attempt at reinstalling the starter. (Luckily this model had a fuse protecting the circuit.) Hey, he was right that it was an electrical problem. Although brought on by a little self-help.
After writing up an estimate (with a decent starter), I was surprised that he decided to have me make the repairs. Of course we had to have the usual conversation on parts prices vs. quality, and how you always get what ya paid for, and how the life time warranty offered for some of the discount brands usually means you’ll be changing it for a lifetime and not that it is better quality. And, how some weekenders will change the same part over and over until they get tired of doing it, and then step up to a better built component, or end up taking it to a repair shop. (That’s been my past experiences with them, although your results may vary.)
It was only after talking to him for a while longer on the phone that it all made sense as to why he was so eager to have a shop do the work. Apparently, there wasn’t enough “Band-aids” and beer for him to try and stuff the starter back in the hole a second time. He’s had enough of that “mechanic” stuff. Well, at least for now. I’m sure after his memory fades a bit, and his wallet is running a little thin, he’ll tackle another problem on his own. Why not, he still has the book!
When he tries and fails he’ll park it next to the shop just like last time, with the same book on the passenger seat (opened to the appropriate page, of course), and another note telling me all about it. And then, we can start this whole scenario all over again.
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