Booster Masthead

Restoration Blvd.
October 2000

Columnist — Allen Wright

Buying Auto Parts: Where to Find Price, Quality and Service

As we all know, there are three elements to any sale: price, quality, and service. Today, I will reflect on these three basic elements and what I’ve found when purchasing auto parts.

Round One: Service.

Let’s begin here. Service is very important to some of us. After all, some of us shop at Nordstrom’s and some choose PriceCostco.

In auto parts, the range goes from the mega-chain AutoZone to the little guy down the street. If I were to rate the service at the auto parts retailers I frequent, the score would be first place to the little guy — I will call him O.E.; second place to AutoZone; and third place: Kragen/CSK.

The reason I like O.E. is that after 15 years as a customer, they know me. They know if I am doing a restoration or simply maintenance. A common greeting at O.E. is "How is the Corvette going?"

At AutoZone, before I have gone too far into the store, an employee greets me and directs me to my destination in the store. AutoZone calls this their Drop/Stop 30/30 Program.

At CSK, no one ever greets you and asking a question about a product is sometimes impossible. Many customers come in clutching coupons they have cut out from ads to take advantage of the lowest price around. I will admit that I, myself, have purchased motor oil at CSK for 49 cents per quart after rebate. But, certainly, no employee has come by to ask if I needed help finding the items I was searching for in the store.

Both AutoZone and CSK have probably suffered from individuals trying to cheat them with returns. Therefore, you need a receipt and you must sign a document and the returned part needs to be examined by an approved employee before you can make a return.

Returns are most difficult at CSK and from their attitude, you’d think you were doing something as "evil" as filling your cup twice at the convenience store.

At O.E., all you need is the returned part or product and you’re out of the door with your cash. Also, at O.E., if they can’t get what you want they usually have a suggestion where you can get it.

The Round One service award goes to the little guy.

Round Two: Quality.

I get confused at CSK and AutoZone with their hard parts offerings. CSK, for example, has two or three starters for 350 Chevrolet engines. There is the Lifetime starter, the NASCAR select, and another one, too. All three have different features and benefits.

I believe most of us who work on our cars want a starter that will start the car every time for a long time. We don’t want to save receipts for a year in case the starter fails and we have to return it for another.

AutoZone does a good job with their batteries and I am told that their hard parts are all top quality. But I purchase all my starters, alternators, distributors — and almost everything else — from O.E. In 15 years, I have had no failures and I know the brand names they market: Fel-Pro, Melling, AC/Delco, Bendix, Champion, Monroe. These names I know and trust. Galaxy, World, Superior, and Blue Racer brands I have never heard of and question their quality. There is something about the idea of having a $5,000 performance engine with a Galaxy starter that bothers me.

I could go on and on about auto parts that I have purchased over the years at a low price — and the results I had with them — but this round is over. In my perception, the little guy wins again, followed closely by AutoZone and CSK.

Round Three: Price.

If this fight had a knock-out round, it would be price. CSK wins. The end.

They’re followed by AutoZone. And O.E., the little guy, doesn’t even get to the ring in this bout.

Remember the old days when you purchased a starter kit to rebuild starters? You took it all apart, checked it, replaced the brushes and the bearings. Those days are gone, good friends. Today, you can get a rebuilt one cheaper than the parts and your time to rebuild it yourself. How do they do it?

But sometimes you do have to be careful that the low prices don’t get you into trouble. On a recent visit to CSK, they had an engine display showing a rebuilt engine for $799.00, a 350 Chevrolet. Viewing it, I noticed that the new timing chain seemed very loose. Checking Chilton and Automotive Engines 6th Edition I found interesting comments about timing backlash and the effects of a loose chain on performance. I have replaced timing chains on my personal vehicles that were not as loose as the $799.00 engine at CSK.

The winner:

In my mind, for my cars, I will continue with the smaller retailer. The service is always good and friendly. The parts I buy are good quality and the price is fair. After all, I don’t work for free. I don’t see why they should have to either.

About two years ago, I purchased the mega-package of electrical tape at PriceCostco. It was a good brand name, 3M. It was good quality, an unbelievable low price and there was a lot of tape in that package. I believe, however, that the temperature swings in my garage have taken their toll on my tape. The rolls are starting to look like little volcanoes forming. By the time I use it, some of that tape may be no good. But I can’t take it back now!

There you have it. I got quality. I got price. Service? Not really. Was I smart or stupid for the large purchase? You decide.

Originally published in the October 2000 Automotive Booster Magazine.
Copyright October 2000 by KAL Publications Inc.

Covering the California auto parts aftermarket since 1928.