Should I Buy My Own Parts

Recently, a major network ran a news story encouraging their viewers to buy their own auto parts and bring them to the shop for installation.  This started a dialogue with our staff and I would like to share some of our thoughts with you.
A couple Sundays ago, Click 2 Houston’s Bill Spencer ran an "investigative report" about a consumer who saved 100s of dollars by purchasing her own parts and taking them to a shop which agreed to install them on her 2004 Audi TT. The consumer bought the part, a fuel pump, from EBay. While it turns out that the consumer was the reporter's sister-in-law, making the story less objective, that was not the worst part. At the end of the broadcast, the trio of newscasters, including their consumer advocate advised listeners to find a different shop if their mechanic refused.  No other viewpoint was offered.
Reporter Bill Spencer said, “It’s very simple. Go out there and find somebody else.  There are tons of mechanics that will do what you want.  This is happening so much right now.” 
As a shop owner of 12 years, when I heard that, my brain went “Ugh!”  
First there is a great deal of variance in the quality of parts. There are wheel bearings made in China that we won't install under any circumstance. If a customer brought those to us, we would advise he return them and let us buy quality ones. Wheel bearings are a safety issue. There are lots of parts like this.  On the other hand, there are parts like side-view mirrors if a customer wants us to install, we can do that and do. 
As far as price concerns,   I always give a hotel analogy.  You can pay less and stay at a Motel 6 or pay more and stay at a La Quinta. Parts are the same. You can buy cheap cheap or good quality parts at a fair price, but price isn't everything when it comes to cars.  We only want to install the part once.  If the customer supplied part fails in six months, then a customer has to pay us again. If the part is purchased by the shop, it is under our warranty and our manufacturer often covers the labor.
Adolf Hoepfl Garage offers a three year warranty on our parts and labor.
Consumers should be aware that no shop will warranty a customer-supplied part. Their warranty is with the company the customer bought at the part store.
As a consumer, I would prefer the professionals choose the correct part and quality for my car.  They are the experts. That expertise is worth something and that’s knowledge I expect to pay for. I don’t want to figure out what’s wrong with my car.  If my fuel pump is leaking, do I need a screen?  Do I need a fuel filter?  Are they going to check my fuel lines? If the car has been sitting, is my gas stale?  So many questions require the expertise of a certified technician to answer and evaluate the needs of the car.
Next, there is no law that requires any repair shop to have liability insurance coverage and only about 40% do.  So if that part fails resulting in a crash, then what?  Shops that do carry insurance are not protected if they install customer-supplied parts. So, while it is true that people can buy parts online, they should not be offended or think ill of a shop if the shop refuses to install that part.  There are good reasons that shops will not and should not do that.  

Should I Buy My Own Parts? Part 2

The question of using customer-supplied parts is nothing new to our industry. It is not a good practice for many reasons that have been outlined in Part 1.  However, when consumer advocates and investigative reporters are giving bad advice to their viewers, that’s a problem because it is a disservice to our customers.
For example, in this story, the lady with the broke fuel pump was told her part was a dealer item only. She is on camera saying, “That’s just an excuse to jack up the price.”  Do our customers understand what we mean when we say a dealer item?  Do they understand why we want to use a dealer item in certain situations?  Shops in general only use the dealership as a last resort because there is very little profit in a dealer only part.  This whole industry is based on a mark-up of parts and labor. Well-established shops purchase parts at a wholesale price and charge M.S.R.P. (Manufactured Standard Retail Price) from dealers and suppliers.  It is the same with any service industry.   So, if the shop believes they need the part from the dealer, there is usually a good reason.
Another aspect glossed over by the investigative reporter is that the customer waited four to five days for her part to arrive. We often get our cars in and out in the same day.  Our customers generally can’t be without their car for four or five days. 
Buying your parts online is tricky, too because you can’t see it. You don’t really know what you’re buying until you receive it.  You would be astonished at the number of parts we return to our suppliers each month because we thought we had the right part. It can be very challenging figuring out what is on your car and locating the correct part.
At the end, the newscaster stresses to the viewers to be sure the consumer buys only new parts.  I agree with that. That is a very important point.  The part that broke on your car is used and if you go to a salvage yard, you are buying another used part.  Part failures follow patterns and if the part broke on your car, it is likely to break on every other car at about the same mileage and condition. That’s why I get so upset when an insurance company only authorizes salvage parts for repairs.
The reporter also stressed to buy parts that come with a strong warranty. I agree with that, too. But the reporter said nothing about the labor.  The warranty will only  apply to the part, not the labor.  It is also important to buy from reputable sources. If your part fails, how do you return it? Do you have to keep your receipt?  Then there is the big question who pays the labor for reinstalling it.
In our industry, we call mechanics who don’t understand why the car works the way it does “parts changers.”  They don’t really know how to diagnose the car because they don’t understand how it works. Finding a technician who understands how a car works and can identify the root cause of your car problem is something that comes with a lot of experience. Granted, not all repairs are complex, but isn’t peace of mind worth something, knowing that not only is the part installed correctly, but the whole system is working properly?
Finally, when we googled the price of a fuel pump for this Audi, we found it on Amazon for $74.00.  So, yes, there are a lot of ways to buy parts less expensively.  This is hard to say what this means for our industry. The future will depend on the consumers like you.  If you value excellent service, then I hope this essay has addressed the “why we generally don’t install customer supplied parts” and you will agree with us.  But there might be more shops willing to stick their neck out and install customer supplied parts. If this reporter is right that “this is happening so much right now,” it will be a game changer and the consequences may not be pretty.