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The wrong part and the VIN

An independent garage has to repair cars in a tough environment: Can’t always get the latest and the right information, and can’t pull a substitute part off the shelf for a “known-good-component test” (not that that will always work, certainly not much anymore). But independents have two-thirds of the repair business, despite all those disadvantages, vs. car dealers. So the companies that serve the independent aftermarket won’t give up on you, and that includes parts departments (separate profit centers) at car dealers.

The area of special interest: Electronic parts ordering. The stories are unending about wrong parts. When it comes to HVAC repairs, most mistakes are with actuators, sensors and control units, not only from aftermarket parts distributors, but also from car dealer parts departments. The repair doesn’t work, so the technician thinks something else is needed and orders that. And in most cases, because the wrong part was unpacked and installed, it can’t be returned. It used to be that year, manufacturer and model, maybe engine type and transmission, were all you had to tell the parts department at the other end of the phone line.

The “classic case” for a problem that has occurred with that approach was the 1998-2000 Ford Escort and its CCRM (Constant Control Relay Module), which like many electronic modules, was made in many software configurations, and although they had different part numbers, the basic numbering system made them all very close. In many, many cases, the dealer parts departments picked out the wrong one – or as often happens, just grabbed the only one in stock. The usual symptoms were that the clutch didn’t engage, but in some cases it wouldn’t disengage.

April MSR Figure 5Problems like that have led to an increased emphasis on (a), getting the part number right; (b), tying the part order into the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). In fact, the VIN is gradually becoming a key identifier for parts orders, because so many software changes are made during the model year on all systems.

But we’ve lately even been hearing problems with use of the VIN. It’s a long number and mistakes have been made. In some cases, the mistake is at the parts jobber rather than the car dealer, because the aftermarket system parts listing didn’t go far enough, stopping at the eight-digit mark. And the OE part, often because of calibration changes, is carried out all the way to a limited range of production. If you have a scanner in your smartphone, that’s one way to record it accurately; or use a digital camera.

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