Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2008   by Auto Service World

Loat Sale, Lost Opportunity

The oxygen sensor was introduced in 1976. Today, thirty-two years and half a billion sensors later, it seems implausible that the aftermarket would be stumped by a 10-year-old application.

And yet, when it came time to replace one on my car, that is exactly what transpired. Now, I want to be fair to the jobbers out there who struggle to maintain an inventory that turns, so this is not about inventory; it is about cataloguing.

The old adage that you can’t sell from an empty shelf is, and probably always has been, false; what is true, however, is that you can’t sell from an empty application listing.

No matter how many you might have on the shelf, if you don’t know what part number you’re supposed to be looking for, you are stymied.

Here are the facts of my own personal experience. My 2000 CLK 320–an engine which is, incidentally, in many models starting in 1998–suffered a nasty misfire, check engine light on, with codes P0150 and P0155 (both O2 sensor), plus the misfire code, P0300.

Intermittent problems of the kind I was experiencing can be elusive, but with 155,000 km on the clock and an expected oxygen sensor lifespan of 160,000 km, a failing O2 sensor was an obvious choice.

This should have been a straightforward fix, but it wasn’t, because none of the jobbers contacted by my service provider could even give them a price, as they had no listing for the part.

And, to make matters worse, the dealer was particularly uncooperative, and would not provide a price to this independent business.

The result was that they turned the car back to me without being repaired. It runs fine, for now, but I am on tenterhooks waiting for it to act up again, and driving around with a code scanner hooked up is not my idea of a joyful experience.

It is true that my shop knows my involvement in the industry. I doubt very much if they would be as ready to give a car back with an unresolved issue to a less wellinformed consumer, though I can’t imagine what choice they would have.

Faced with this outcome, a consumer would be very unlikely to leave the experience with much confidence in the aftermarket. Frankly, I’m pretty disappointed, too. And if it is happening to me, it is happening to hundreds, maybe thousands, of car owners every day.

What good is pushing manufacturers on fit, form, function, and fighting to get the right tools and information to do the job right, when you can’t sell the part to the shop?

A few years ago I heard the head of General Parts Limited, Temple Sloan III, say that the firm was losing 10% of sales due to incomplete listings.

If you’re searching for a justification to open up your cataloguing, or work a little harder to find a part, what more reason could you want than to raise your sales by 10%?

Yes, there are likely a dozen so-called reasons why the jobbers did not have a listing for the part–three manufacturers show it; one import distributor I checked with does not–but the bottom line is that the customer was left wanting while manufacturers have the part sitting on a shelf somewhere.

And that just doesn’t make sense to me at all. –Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

P. S. Many of you may have been expecting to see the Jobber of the Year profiled in this issue, but a combination of selection committee travel schedules and telephone tag have meant that we had trouble connecting with this year’s recipient. We can’t tell you until we tell them can we? So look for it in the August issue.

Next Month

Light Truck Opportunities continue to abound: Brakes, Chassis, Emissions, Tune-Up, and more hold benefits for you and your customers.