Monday, September 24, 2012

Parts Is Parts

Years ago I bought an old Chrysler Le Baron for four-hundred dollars. Representing the best styling cues of the seventies, it was a pleasingly aesthetic coupe of a car. At least, it was when it rolled off of the assembly line in late '78. Over the decades, however, "pleasingly aesthetic" came to be redefined by a missing headliner, torn seat covers, and rust. Clearly, I had my work cut out for me.

Every task, including a labor of love such as mine, has its headaches. Repairing the headliner, for example, necessitated twisting my back almost to the point of hyperextension (and thereby requiring Lucky Garvin's services). Installing bucket seats meant fabricating brackets with steel stock hard enough to burn the bearings out of a drill. And, being a bucks-down kind of a guy, the rust repair work meant settling on Bondo rather than replacing rotted quarter panels. That meant it would be only a matter of time before the rust evidenced itself once again.

None of this unpleasantness can compare to one many of us frequently experience at the car parts counter.

Take one day in May 2007. I remember it vividly, which in itself is amazing since it led to me banging my head against a nearby wall. I needed spark plugs for "Project Someday". This was was responded to by a question from the parts guy. "Is it a two door or a four door?" I'm pretty sure the spark plugs wouldn't care. I remained patient while the parts guy asked me what size engine was in the car -at least, until his response to my answer: a two-hundred twenty-five cubic incher. "I don't think we have spark plugs for that, but we do have them for 1970s six cylinder Chrysler engines in 3.7 liter size."

Someone teach this kid metric conversions.

I finished explaining American-to-the-rest-of-the-world size conversions while customers began forming a line behind me. Beulah, who had been waiting patiently to ask where the menthol air fresheners were, had become second-in-command.  Behind her there had amassed seven customers, eager to buy everything from shop towels to reconditioned crankshafts. We were a hardy lot, and let me tell you we took our shopping seriously. Two door, three doors, who cares? Sell us some parts.

Apparently, we weren't the only squad of "tough customers"; over in Line Two, some guy was furiously arguing with the assistant manager over whether or not a starter motor on a Vega could also work on a Fiero. The manager was holding his own, relying on cross-referencing skills he had acquired at Car Parts University. His rival maintained that the parts were interchangeable. "You can't put a Chevy starter on a Pontiac" was met with "the factory does it all the time" while I stepped out of line for some Mountain Dew and beef jerky. If there was going to be a contest, I wanted refreshments. Before long, the argument escalated into a marvelous shouting match. The manager stood his ground nicely while I finally concluded my business. With my merchandise in hand, the day promised to be a pleasant one.

As I exited the store, the debate continued behind me. "They're two different models and two different years. They won't swap!" Not to be deterred, the customer dug in for the long haul. "Listen, buddy. My uncle worked for GM, and he says they're the same. Just sell me the dumb thing. And, while you're at it, how about giving me a price on wiper blades for my '89 Toyota Tercel?"

"Sure thing. Is it a two door or a four door...?"

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