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A proliferation of parts

March 25, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Occasionally, a customer will seem impatient because the part they need for their car is not "in stock" at their garage and has to be ordered from somewhere, which takes time. It didn't used to be that way, they say, and they're right. It was different in the past, but things have changed. There have been huge changes in almost all fields in the last 40 years, but I wonder if the car care business might be the most revolutionized of them all.

For instance:

Forty years ago, there was one oil filter part number for all Chevrolets and GMCs. There was a different filter for the rest of the General Motors line-up, which was Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. There was one filter for all Ford products, one different one for all Chrysler cars and trucks, and American Motors products used the Ford filter. Fast forward, and Chevy now uses about 10 different filters, the rest of General Motors uses about another 10, Chrysler another batch and the different numbers are growing because each new year results in an all new oil filter manufactured for that year's baby.

Trying to stock all of the necessary filters to accommodate today's cars is nuts. Fifty different part numbers now cover only about 80 percent of the cars on the road. I say it's nuts because it isn't necessary. An oil filter is an oil filter. Every car on the road could use the same filter but the manufacturers keep changing the cars to make sure the old filters won't fit the new cars. They do it to make you buy the new style filter from their dealerships. This works until the after-market industry sees a big enough market, and then they tool up and make the new filter and sell it for less money than the dealership sold it for. So the manufacturers design another new one for the next year's production.

Forty years ago, garages rebuilt starters and alternators. We had a lathe on which to turn down starter commutators, and we would replace the bushings and brushes and voila, we had a rebuilt starter to put back on the car. Then they started making commutators that couldn't be turned down any more. They were disposable. It went from about 10 different starters needed to fit almost all American cars, to now probably nearly 100, which makes it impossible for a single shop to inventory. The same thing happened with alternators. We could replace the diodes and brushes and bearings and regulators and simply reinstall them back on the car. Then, instead of one regulator for any General motors alternator, it went to 20 or more. Then they were computer controlled and the internal parts were no longer available, and there were hundreds of different alternator part numbers needed to cover the cars on the road. We were forced to buy from new car dealerships until the after-market boys got caught up and started supplying the industry with rebuilt parts.

The point here isn't that it costs the consumer any more than it ever did, or takes any longer to make the repairs than it ever took. The after-market stuff is no more expensive than it ever was, and the time it took to rebuild the parts ourselves is now used to order parts and wait for their delivery, because we cannot possibly stock all of these different part numbers in our shops. We rely on vendors, or parts houses to stock the parts and deliver them to us as we need them. The point is that it is simply different. It wasn't our idea to stop rebuilding parts in the field. It was done to us. So chill out, relax, give it time and the parts will be here on the next delivery truck, which could be stuck in traffic.

--Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, at Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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