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Last month I spent the better part of two weeks making calls, surfing parts websites and catalogs trying to find a power train control module (PCM) for a pretty common Chevrolet with a not so common PCM.
I finally found the part number I was looking for, had it shipped in from a vendor I don’t normally use, handed it off to my tech and received the bad news a few minutes later – the only PCM I could find – had been installed, was damaged and did not work.
This was an OE remanufactured part that came out of the box with greasy fingerprints all over it and obvious marks where the same hygiene-challenged individual had pried the connectors out of the PCM. I am pretty sure it was used as a test part by an unenlightened, under-educated technician who did not use any diagnostic tools to decide that the “computer” was bad.
Most likely the displays on any scan tools in this shop that were made within 10 years of the vehicles production date were so dirty you could not have read them to recover a diagnostic trouble code.
You might think I am being particularly harsh, OK, guilty as charged, but it does take a special level of gorilla ineptitude to “brick” a brand new GM computer. Did our knuckle-dragging hero even know he had to install software on the PCM?
He certainly had no problem stuffing it back in the box and sending it back, apparently as a new return or a warranty that was not properly logged so that it did not fall into the hands of someone with the proper skill set to install it.
Maybe it did not go down like that at all but it was apparent that a professional technician did not interface with this particular part and that I was on the hunt again after losing two weeks.
It seems to me that this is the most pervasive problem that our industry faces and not just because it affects me. The crime had been committed before I bought the part. This issue affects the supply chain in an expensive way that ultimately lands on our customers.
All of us along the supply chain are price takers. We buy the part from the supplier above us for the price the original manufacturer needed to cover costs, R&D, delivery and so on down the line until our customer buys it along with the service part of the transaction from us.
The more “warranty” returns that occur, particularly those that are not really warranty returns, the higher that manufacturer’s cost will go up.
Many parts suppliers have developed fantastic training programs to help repairers understand the process involved in reducing comebacks and warranties by performing the job right the first time. The problem is that the folks that really need to hear that are deaf to the message. In their limited experience the parts are just junk and if they put on an OE part it will solve their problem.
I teach a class for Gates Rubber Company, designed as an answer to high warranty rates on water pumps. When we first began the program I was teaching the class and had a tech that wanted to argue every point with me. He informed me that the water pumps were no good because the original had lasted 120,000 miles and the replacement didn’t even make it out of warranty.
I agreed to take his story back to Gates if he would answer a few questions so I would have the whole picture to show them how he had performed the service. He reluctantly agreed because he had 50 other people in the room glaring at him. “OK,” I said, “The pump lasted 120K originally. Did it start out with a completely brand new cooling system?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Did it have brand new coolant,” I queried.
“Yes but that coolant is junk.”
“Do you routinely flush the cooling system and replace the coolant when you replace a water pump?”
“I just drain it, put the new water pump on and replace that junk coolant with regular antifreeze.”
There is no need to go much further with this line of questioning because you only have to do a little bit of web browsing to find all the articles that have been cranked out about mixing coolants, leaving old coolant and the debris in the system when replacing a component and the need for complete system service to return it to the condition that it will provide your customer with another 120K of reliability. Oh, by the way, the coolant is not junk, but if you mix it with other coolants or use it where it was not intended to be used, you might think it is.
So, I have given you a couple of common warranty failures or return parts issues. The reasons for the failures are documented and anyone who runs a shop that is successful knows that the uneducated are rapidly outnumbering the educated. The pace of innovation and vehicle specialization will continue and accelerate that trend. As an industry what are we to do?
There is a group of suppliers and concerned shops owners who are working on a plan that may help to at least keep those part change and return experts from damaging local parts store inventories and hopefully reduce costs up and down the supply chain by requiring an explanation of the circumstances behind the warranty claim.
The only loser I see in this scenario are the shipping folks who move parts multiple times that worked when they left the factory and still worked when they returned with greasy fingerprints all over them.
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