Gonzo's Toolbox: Earning Respect at the Parts Store
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Gonzo’s Toolbox: Earning Respect at the Parts Store

I started my shop like a lot of other guys in the automotive repair business without a lot of startup capital, and with only a hand-painted sign, a box of tools and a dream. That was a long time ago. I still have the tools, but the hand-painted sign is long gone. One thing I didn’t have was any track record of paying my bills with the parts stores. People knew of me, but not well enough to put a lot of trust into my business just yet. But, believe me, it was a struggle to just get things started.

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I started my shop like a lot of other guys in the automotive repair business without a lot of startup capital, and with only a hand-painted sign, a box of tools and a dream. That was a long time ago. I still have the tools, but the hand-painted sign is long gone. One thing I didn’t have was any track record of paying my bills with the parts stores. People knew of me, but not well enough to put a lot of trust into my business just yet. But, believe me, it was a struggle to just get things started.

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I was buying parts from any local parts store or warehouse that would let me. A lot of the parts stores wouldn’t even give me a line of credit, and others would give me only one week or so on credit. So, every Monday, I would have to make good on the parts I had bought the week before. I can’t blame them; it’s quite a risk for a parts store to let their products go out the front door to an unknown person without any track record.

I wanted to do whatever it took to make my new business thrive. Back then, I would do as much as I could in the way of in-house repairs, or rebuild as many components as possible. In fact, a lot of the components back then could be taken apart and ­rebuilt.

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I would rebuild switches, window motors, starters, alternators, or anything else that I could take apart and replace internal components on. It wasn’t long after I opened my shop that I ran into a little problem with one of my suppliers. It involved an IC-type Delco alternator that had a bad rectifier in it. It was a simple repair that I could knock out in no time.

I ordered a new one from my supplier, and got to work tearing down the alternator to install the new rectifier. Once I had it back together again, I re-installed it into the car. As soon as I reached for the battery clamp and touched it to the battery, Z-ZAPP! Sparks flew in every direction.

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What the heck!?!? What did I just do??

I disconnected everything I just put together. The problem disappeared as the alternator was disconnected. I must have screwed up…or at least that’s what I was thinking at the time, along with having to take the whole thing apart again and check my work. I went through the alternator with a fine-tooth comb. Nothing looked wrong; everything was in its proper place. I got out the ohmmeter and started checking things. Sure enough, the rectifier was the culprit. The diodes inside the rectifier that I just bought were ­installed backward from the factory! I called the supplier and explained the situation. 

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I was busy explaining to the parts store what I found out, but I could tell something else was wrong besides the rectifier. It was me. Let’s face it, I was a young, new shop owner (only in business a few months) with no track record and nothing more than my word that the part was bad.

The big problem was getting the part store convinced that I wasn’t just another idiot with a box of wrenches trying to run a repair shop. I’m sure that’s what they were thinking. I’ll bet they’ve seen a lot of shops come and go, and there’s no doubt I probably sounded like another “wanna-be” shop owner to them.

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I went into great detail about how I discovered the backward diodes, but since they still thought that I was a “green” kid with a multi-meter, they didn’t believe a word of it. I had to buy a second one.

Since their store policy was “No returns on electrical parts,” I’d have to eat the first one, unless I could prove it was faulty. Their reasoning was simple, although buying extra parts wasn’t in my budget at all.

I have to agree with the parts store though – it doesn’t take much to screw up an electrical part by an amateur installing it wrong. I might have been new at shop ownership, but this wasn’t the first time I had installed a rectifier in an alternator. I knew what I was doing – I just had to gain their respect and confidence.

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When the replacement part showed up, I checked it “before” installing it. Well, what do you know, this one had backward diodes, too. I called my supplier back again, and now they were even more suspicious. Since I was the “new” guy on the block, I think they wanted to be sure about my results. This time, they sent another rectifier to me, and had me check it while the parts driver waited (I think they wanted to see if I was actually testing them). Same thing again – more backward diodes. 

That’s when I told them that I thought they had an entire order of these rectifiers that were built wrong, and to send me a different brand. There again, I was the new guy, so it was another case of “I have to buy another one.”

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On their fourth trip to my shop, the parts store delivered one from a different manufacturer and this one checked out perfectly. But, in order for me to get my money back on the faulty ones, they had to send them back to their supplier and have them verified, before they could get their money back and, of course, my money back, too. Unfortunately this took awhile.

That was many, many years ago. These days, it’s a little easier for me to return an electrical part, though I very, very seldom ever do. My track record speaks for itself. Years later, that same parts store and I are old pals. The store has changed owners several times, but some of the same counterpeople are still there. Anytime they have a question on an electrical issue, they’ll usually call me first. I guess I’ve earned their trust, respect and admiration. In fact, I’ve helped bail them out of a few situations, too.

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I look at it this way – we have to provide some level of trust in everything we do in life or business. Whether that trust is directed to a customer or a supplier, you still need to gain their confidence. Just because you think you know something, it doesn’t make you right. You still have to prove it. 

 

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