What Has Gone Wrong With Car Parts Stores?

What Has Gone Wrong With Car Parts Stores?

Yesterday I went into an Auto Zone car parts store and selected a socket fixture for a single element tail light bulb. I took it to the counter and told the parts man, “I’m going to make a test light out of this socket. Can you find me a six-volt single element bulb to fit?”I followed him up the aisle to the display of bulbs, whereupon he asked me, “Front or back?”Front or back? For a test light?I knew then I was dealing with an idiot. I explained that I wasn’t going to put it in a vehicle; instead, I would be attaching leads to it and using it to test electrical continuity on my six-volt antique Honda motorcycle. And so I needed a six-volt bulb.

And what did he hand me?

Right. A twelve-volt bulb. He didn’t know what a six-volt bulb even was!

Over the past twenty or so years I’ve been experiencing variations on this experience at fast food restaurants, discount stores, and other retail places. Until now I’ve considered it a problem uniquely attached to postmodern America, but obviously it isn’t. When I told my story on a Yahoo group for motorcycle enthusiasts, this came back from Pete A in the UK:

Don’t worry; it’s not you, and it’s not the USA. We get the same problem here. All our auto shops are run by teenagers on minimum wage. Trying to order anything for my race bike is a nightmare in these places.

Me: Please, can I have a 12-volt  battery measuring 115mm x 100mm x 80mm? (as I’ve already been using them for my race bike, I designed the frame battery cage to this size).

Shop: What bike is it for, sir?

Me: It’s for a Honda CB125S race bike, but that’s irrelevant, as I’ve using a different setup.

Shop: Hang on a moment, sir. (Comes back). We don’t do parts for those bikes any more.


Me: I want a battery 115mm x 100mm x 80mm. You must have a stock of batteries and a catalogue.

Shop: But we don’t do parts for that bike.

Back in the day, when I went into a car parts store, the men and occasional women behind the counter knew and loved cars, and especially car parts. They understood the difference between metric and SAE and Whitworth wrenches, could tell you the displacement of every Ford and General Motors and Chrysler engine, had advice about how to install the brake pads you just bought or which spark plug would work best in your car.

These days, most car parts store employees—seemingly, on at least two continents—couldn’t find their asses with both hands. When you ask for something simple like say, J-B Weld or Rainex, they look at you as if you were crazy. If you order a starter and they accidentally fetch an alternator, they don’t know by looking at it that it’s the wrong part. Moreover, they don’t care whether they can meet your parts needs or not. They could care less if you buy something.

Such incompetence and uncaringness aren’t specific to the age, gender, or ethnicity of workers—I’ve been ignored, insulted, and looked at blankly by every sort of person. It spans a wide range of businesses across a wide geographic area. And it seems to be getting worse.

Whether you, my readers, consider this to be a problem caused predominantly by lazy workers or by greedy industrialists, perhaps we can all agree it’s a sad state of affairs.

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