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Clean up your chisels and punches (for your own safety!)


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    • By Counterman
      ost of our workdays are spent typing and mouse-clicking our way through hundreds of parts requests and catalogue prompts, and we rely heavily on computers for most aspects of our daily operations. Think of the last time your store’s internet or server network went down. Catalogue and inventory information, ordering and receiving functions, invoice printers, driver dispatch and order tracking, and even time clock access are all crippled when the plug gets pulled. Chaos ensues, and if there is no backup plan in place, work grinds to a halt. Depending on corporate policy, you may even have to close the doors until you are back up and running. 
      Even when our computers are running at peak efficiency, the quality of the information we feed into the system has the potential to create a snowball effect of errors, wasting time, personnel resources, inventory dollars, and, ultimately, disappointing our customers. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” dates to the early days of the computing industry and is a simple way of recalling that no matter how far information technology has progressed in the past 75 years, we still need to capture the correct information to begin that automated process successfully. 
      It all begins with the customer. We rely on them to present us with the basic vehicle and diagnostic information required to catalogue the correct parts, but once we take control of the process, we still need to maintain the integrity of that information. Asking the right questions, following relevant prompts, and verifying options that differentiate similar products lead to successful sales and reduce the number of returns. 
      When you call the parts department at your local OEM dealer, their initial reply is often to ask for the last eight digits of the VIN. That (relatively) simple bit of information serves to eliminate a lot of these errors, identifying the vehicle and all its individual options. It eliminates multiple questions that must be asked (and correctly answered) to lead the parts specialist to the appropriate listings. This reduces the margin for error, but certainly does not eliminate it altogether. Just as a customer might misquote their vehicle descriptors, the customer may misread or misspeak the VIN information, or the parts specialist might write it down incorrectly. It is also a good practice to keep accurate notes (on paper) to keep track of previous calls and orders. These notes also may help your coworkers get up to speed if they need to take over for you with a customer, so legible handwriting counts! Complete notes will help refresh your memory in the event of a comeback or complaint, and may come in handy if you are asked to explain what went wrong with a particular transaction.
      I prefer to repeat a customer’s information back to them, showing that they have my full attention and confirming that what I think I heard is what they believe they asked for. They should not have to repeat themselves, but confirmation is critical at this point in the process. It is certainly better than getting through an entire transaction before realizing the customer who just told you they drive a “Cherokee” is now busy loading their parts order into the back of a GRAND Cherokee!
      Incorrect information anywhere within the conversation can skew the results, and guessing at vehicle identification or options is a recipe for returns. Occasionally, we can skip through irrelevant screen prompts, or even bypass the computer altogether when we know something by heart, but when in doubt, ASK THE QUESTION! We may not be able to prevent our customers from guessing at critical answers, or even from giving us inconsistent information, but we are able to limit the amount of “garbage” that we feed into our computer on our customer’s behalf. 
      When we do encounter a legitimate catalog error, we shouldn’t just blame the computer. In these cases, the “garbage out” is the result of an error (likely made by another human) that was fed into the database. The computer is just repeating the answer it was programmed to give based on the information requested. It is important to report these errors so that the catalogue provider can investigate the error and make any necessary corrections quickly. 
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    • By Counterman
      hatever happened to engine colors? Every manufacturer had their own specific hue. Orange, blue, red, gold…there were lots of options. Purists get serious about it too. If you’re going to pop the hood at a car show, the color better be right.
      link hidden, please login to view At the risk of sounding partial to the classics, I’m going to say I miss those days. The majority of the engine blocks were clearly visible, and air cleaners, brackets, braces and pulleys all had a nice finish, only to be topped aesthetically on performance models with chrome-plated air cleaners or valve covers.
      Under the hood, there was something nice to look at, adding incentive to clean and degrease the engine on a regular basis. If you were from my generation, when you got a new (used) car, one of the first things you did was clean the engine and engine compartment. Having a clean mill under the hood was just an extra way to take pride in your car.
      Open the hood on today’s cars and you get plastic, then more plastic. Finished in less-than-exciting flat black, with the occasional glimpse of an aluminum cylinder head, there’s just not as much to get excited about when it comes to cleaning your engine. But, is it important? You bet.
      link hidden, please login to view There are plenty of theories surrounding whether or not it can affect the performance, and even question if a clean engine will run cooler. The fact is neither is true. I always think my cars run better after waxing them, but I know that’s scientifically impossible, so I chock that up to the car’s “soul.” I’ve never experienced a situation where a dirty engine makes it run worse. Engines just don’t care.
      Some might argue that layers of grease and grime can prevent heat dissipation from the engine, and while you could probably prove that scientifically, in practice, it makes no difference. If there is reality to that, it would be in such minor fractions of a degree that it simply wouldn’t matter.
      Where it does matter is that leaks, both coolant and oil, are the primary contributors to a dirty engine. The fluids themselves build up and coat the engine, as well as other parts of the car depending on the severity of the leak, and this creates many problems. One, it makes it difficult to find the source of the leak. As a technician, there are times when an engine is so dirty, you have to clean it first before you can pinpoint a leak.
      The other consequence is these fluids getting onto other components. Oil wreaks havoc with rubber, and can soften coolant hoses, engine mounts, belts, weatherstrips and even electrical connector weather seals. Finally, the oil buildup traps dirt and before you know it you can have a thick layer of oily, greasy grime that will come off in huge chunks.
      A little dust never hurt anything, but it’s amazing how much “stuff” comes up off the road and settles in the engine compartment. Dirt, rocks, asphalt, leaves, you name it, it will find a way in. The problem with debris is that it can fall into the engine when replacing things like spark plugs or valve cover gaskets, or even when doing something as simple as the air filter or adding oil. There’s a lot of damage that can occur if this happens.
      The final benefit to cleaning your engine is it allows you to evict any rodents that may be residing in one of the many cozy spots under the hood, just waiting to chew their way into an expensive repair.
      So, when your customer asks about cleaning an engine, not only can you give them good reasons, but you can offer them solutions and know-how to ease their concerns about the often-told story of cleaning an engine and experiencing a no-start situation afterward. With a few simple precautions, they won’t have any trouble.
      My starting point begins with access. On most vehicles today, there’s almost always a plastic cover on the top of the engine, which I might mention hides a lot underneath, and the engine is often dirtier than you realize. I remove all of these covers, and if the vehicle has a lower engine cover, I remove these as well, since they’ll just hold everything you clean off the engine.
      link hidden, please login to view The first step in the cleaning process belongs to compressed air and a blow gun. Large amounts of debris such as leaves or the occasional mouse nest can be sucked out with a shop vac, or just grabbed out by hand and thrown away. But a blow gun will take care of all of it. I’m always sure to wear safety glasses and a dust mask, then I work my way from top to bottom of the engine and compartment, blowing out all dust and debris, focusing on areas that typically trap a lot, such as around the spark plugs and intake manifold.
      As I work my way down, I blow debris off the frame, suspension and body parts that are accessible, and also off the top of the transmission, since it will trap a lot. Finally, I blow out the radiator and condenser fins (which by the way CAN affect engine temperature and A/C performance). You’d be surprised how much dirt comes out of these.
      With the bulk of the debris removed, it’s time for degreaser. The first step here is to cover any electrical components that will be affected by water, such as the alternator and distributor, if equipped, as well as the intake duct for the air cleaner, or any exposed air filter. I use plastic disposable grocery store bags for this. Keep in mind two things here. One, most things are sealed up, and it’s not uncommon to have water splash up when you drive in the rain. Cars are built to handle this. But two, this is just incidental water splashing and nothing is meant to have pressurized water sprayed at it, sealed or not, so as long as you cover electrical components, and don’t spray directly at any of them, you won’t have a problem. Just be careful with high-pressure power washers.
      Now it gets simple. I put cardboard under the car to collect the drippings that are about to occur, then spray the engine, as well as surrounding components with degreaser, and let it soak. It’s always a good idea to read the instructions for the degreaser to beware of any damage it could cause to anything such as the vehicle paint. After the degreaser has had time to soak, I use a cleaning brush to scrub the excessively dirty areas, and, in some cases, a scraper may be required when there’s a lot of buildup.
      I tend to use a second application of degreaser, and let it soak, then scrub some more before rinsing it off. Then, I remove the cardboard and put a large plastic tub underneath to catch the big clumps of grease that may wash off. When rinsing things, I use light spray around electrical components, and limit the full force of the hose nozzle to the block, heads and intake, or anywhere there’s serious grease removal.
      link hidden, please login to view A final trick I use is to hook up the hose to hot water, when possible. If you have a utility sink, you can get adapters that allow you to do this. Hot water makes a huge difference in cutting through the grease, but you’ll use a lot of it, so if you’re at home, I never start the job just before someone needs a shower, or you might end up in a different type of hot water.
      With everything cleaned up, remove all the protective plastic coverings, blow off any excess water that’s puddled up anywhere, reinstall any covers you removed, and you’ve just done your car a favor.
      Why wait for the occasional customer who asks about cleaning their engine? Spring cleaning is good under the hood, too. Latex gloves, dust masks, safety glasses, engine degreaser, cleaning brushes, a blow gun, hose nozzle, plastic tub, absorbent mats and shop rags are all great supplies you likely have in stock. Finish it off with some microfiber towels and a spray detailer to wipe any surround paint surfaces, just in case any solvents splash out.
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    • By Advance Auto Parts
      Advance’s “Check Your Battery, Not Your Bag” campaign offers free gift cards for road trip essentials and curbside services beginning National Road Trip Day – Friday, May 24
      RALEIGH, N.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Americans seem to be hitting a breaking point with air travel, with 67 percent saying they’ve had a trip negatively impacted or ruined because of problems with air travel during the last 12 months,* according to new data from Atomik Research, released today by Advance Auto Parts (NYSE: AAP), a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider.
      Advance Auto Parts offers free curbside services including battery testing and installation, wiper blade installation and check engine light scanning, to ensure motorists are ready to roll for their summer road trips. (Photo: Business Wire)
      From losing precious time – 44 percent citing that delays and other problems traveling by air has cost them vacation time – to safety concerns – 32 percent feeling less safe flying compared to a year ago, Americans are saying “enough!” This summer they’re trading wings for wheels: An astounding 70 percent say they are more likely compared to a year ago to choose traveling by automobile over flying due to the current state of air travel.
      The “baggage” that comes with air travel continues to stack up and now outweighs the benefit of faster travel time for many Americans, according to the survey. Sixty-six percent say the number of hours they’re willing to drive before choosing to fly has increased in the past 12 months and 24 percent say they would drive 10 or more hours for summer vacation before choosing to fly.
      Heeding consumers’ preference for summer vacation by automobile, Advance is encouraging travelers to “Check Your Battery, Not Your Bag” so they can achieve what matters most – enjoying their well-deserved summer vacation.
      Beginning National Road Trip Day this Friday, May 24 through Monday, May 27, participating Advance stores nationwide will surprise randomly selected customers with free Advance gift cards to purchase DieHard® batteries, wiper blades or other road trip essentials, no previous purchase necessary. Complimentary curbside services are available every day throughout the year to customers at all participating Advance stores, including battery checks and installation, wiper blade installation and check engine light scanning.
      “With all the concern about air travel and more people planning to travel by automobile – including willing to drive longer for their summer vacations – it’s critical they prepare their vehicles, and we want to make that as easy as possible,” said Junior Word, Advance’s executive vice president, U.S. stores. “Safety and reliability are at the center of ease, so our team of automotive experts are offering travelers a one-stop preparation shop – from car care essentials to curbside battery checks and installs on us.”
      The great majority (85 percent) of survey respondents indicate they will prepare a pre-road trip checklist for their vacation. To further support motorists, Advance is providing “Rules of the Road (Trip)” – a free checklist outlining car preparation basics designed to help both light DIYers and gearheads alike – available on 
      link hidden, please login to view. Check out 
      link hidden, please login to view or visit an  link hidden, please login to view to shop for all of the auto parts and products needed to get vehicles road trip ready. About Advance Auto Parts
      Advance Auto Parts, Inc. is a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider that serves both professional installer and do-it-yourself customers. As of December 30, 2023, Advance operated 4,786 stores and 321 Worldpac branches primarily within the United States, with additional locations in Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The company also served 1,245 independently owned Carquest branded stores across these locations in addition to Mexico and various Caribbean islands. Additional information about Advance, including employment opportunities, customer services, and online shopping for parts, accessories and other offerings can be found at 
      link hidden, please login to view. * Atomik Research conducted an online survey of 1,002 adult drivers who are considering traveling to their summer-travel destination via air travel or automobile. The margin of error for the overall sample of respondents is +/- 3 percentage points with a confidence level of 95 percent. Fieldwork took place between April 18 and April 19, 2024.


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    • By Dorman Products
      Making your own gaskets? Get a hollow punch set for pro results
    • A-premium Auto Parts:5% OFF with Code GM5.
    • By Counterman
      or our commercial customers, price and quality are two of the most important considerations when purchasing parts from you (and your competitors). The third is availability, but at least we have some control over what gets stocked in our stores. Barring supply chain issues and material shortages, keeping the right mix of parts available is up to our buyers and inventory specialists. Unless your store’s pricing strategy is out of line with the competition, pricing (and quality) complaints fall squarely on the vendor/manufacturer. 
      This is not to say that if you are experiencing price, quality, or availability issues with a current vendor that you shouldn’t already be looking for alternate sourcing for the affected SKUs or product lines. During the latest UAW strike, GM and Stellantis parts warehouses were crippled by walkouts, leaving their dealer networks scrambling to provide parts for their customers. Many dealerships were forced to bolster their inventories with quality aftermarket-equivalent products just to keep work flowing through their service departments. 
      link hidden, please login to view For the aftermarket, this was a perfect storm of opportunity. There was less competition from the local dealership in terms of parts sales, and those same dealers were calling on aftermarket suppliers more often for parts they could not readily obtain through their OEM channels. Due to the perception that OE parts are the best option for their vehicle brand (and a need to provide the same level of service, warranty coverage, and quality) these requests were often for premium product lines. Dealerships are generally unwilling to risk their reputation by installing bargain-basement parts, and the expectation that dealership parts and service will carry a premium price tag silences many objections well ahead of the sale. Independent shops specializing in repair or resale of luxury and performance brands also enjoy a more quality-conscious clientele willing to pay a premium for their services.
      There is, however, a subset of dealerships (and some general repair shops) for whom price trumps all other considerations. Your local “buy-here-pay-here” used car lot might come to mind, reconditioning and “flipping” (usually lower-end) auction vehicles, while offering very limited warranty terms. For this market, requests will usually gravitate toward the “least expensive” parts option. Even the most quality-conscious shops sometimes need to hit a “price-point” to stay competitive, and we all have that DIY customer who just wants “the cheapest thing that fits” because they are “trading it in soon” (even though they’ve been telling you that each time they’ve been in for the last three years!).
      In an effort to accommodate all types of customer needs, we are likely to offer multiple lines for most of our “commodity” parts. Filters, brakes, chassis parts, belts, lighting, wipers, and fluids are some of the most common categories in which we offer diverse price and quality options. This isn’t necessarily an issue of price versus quality, but rather comparing the value realized from an item’s price and its quality. For maintenance items like filters, an installer might have a “menu” pricing schedule for oil changes, air and cabin filters, and wiper blades. These services generally include labor at no “additional” cost, and the parts already have a recommended service interval. Selling at a fixed price can be tricky when the costs are variable, so shops often use value-line parts for these services. If the shop advertises “any air filter $49.95 installed,” you can bet they will choose your $12 store brand filter over the $25 premium filter whenever they can! These parts will likely provide sufficient service life, and the cost savings to the shop offsets some of the lost labor revenue. On our side of the counter, oil is usually marketed as a loss leader priced to get customers through the front door. Shops treat oil changes the same way, as an opportunity to get the vehicle in the shop to upsell more profitable work. 
      We would never knowingly offer a product that doesn’t meet some sort of minimum quality standards, nor would we recommend a product that won’t meet a customer’s (reasonable) expectations. The use of “features and benefits” as a selling tool helps classify the customer’s needs, explains the differences in pricing and quality, and minimizes disappointment by customers who expected premium performance and extended service life from the bare-bones product they selected based on price alone. 
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