Repair My Car--With My Parts?

April 11, 2011

How do auto repair shops handle customers who bring in their own parts to be installed by professionals--and should you consider doing just that?

In the days when competition of any note really didn't exist (pre- Sears Auto Centers and Jiffy Lubes) a mentor of mine had a stock response to this type of customer: "You don't go to a diner and bring your own bacon and eggs, do you?"

Fortunately, I learned that he wasn't the last word on a lot of things, especially in assessing the value of each and every customer. The subject of customer-supplied parts does merit some discussion though.

Here's how it works. The repair facility has two revenue streams--labor charges and parts sales. I'm sure everyone understands that it is the margin between what it pays for these products and what it charges you for them that pays its bills. So when an owner shows up with a box full of parts, it doesn't fit into the shop's business model or possibly, into its survival plan.

But why not just install the parts? After all, it keeps their technicians busy and makes a profit on the labor charges. This may be the approach that some facilities take and it probably works well in the vast majority of the cases.

The problem is that in this scenario there is ample room for an incursion of Murphy's Law. The list of pitfalls for the shop is long and ugly. They include the possibility that the box with the parts is full of the wrong parts, thus tying up valuable repair space while the correct parts are located. The pitfalls could also include being sued when the installed parts fail causing physical damage or personal injury.

It may seem like a stretch to include litigation as a hindrance, but fear of being sued can be a real behavior-modifying force. I once wrote about a lawsuit in Montana in which the age of a tire became an issue when an '89 Bronco II rolled over, causing life-altering injuries to the driver. The cause was said to be the loss of tread on a tire.

So be prepared to hear a list of caveats and disclaimers if you ask for your own parts to be installed on your car. For example, the purchase of parts assumes that a diagnosis has been made. When you self-diagnose, you assume ownership of the repair and have no recourse against the installer.

Ultimately, you can view bringing your own parts as a money-saving opportunity, but finding a shop willing to work under those conditions may be difficult and will not go far towards establishing a good relationship. There may eventually come a time when the diagnosis is not so clear and supplying your own parts is not an option. It doesn't require much imagination to figure out what happens then.

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