Jeez, how do spare parts counter assistants keep their jobs?

Posted on July 2nd, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar


It’s along time since I worked behind the counter in a shop – and even then it was only a Christmas job. So maybe I’ve forgotten what complete idiots many customers are and how store staff have to cope with that day-in and day-out. But jeez I find it frustrating buying stuff.

Invariably, when you buy an automotive component, the first thing the staff ask you is: “What make and model?”

They’ll ask that even if you have brought in a sample – say a piece of bent wire for a custom-shaped water hose on a turbo conversion. It doesn’t matter if you say: “It’s a custom job; do you have one like this?” …they just repeat the question.

Today I wanted to buy some oil that’s used in the steering dampers of motorcycles. I wanted to know:

(1) Are oils of different viscosities available for steering dampers

(2) If that was the case, did this shop have any of those oils?

The steering dampers were not being used in a steering application; furthermore, they were not even being used on a motorcycle. But that didn’t make any difference whatsoever to the two questions I asked the bloke at the spare parts counter of the motorcycle dealer. But instead of listening to what I had said, he asked: “What make and model?”

I went through the questions again, and this time he called over someone else. Great, the first bloke obviously knew bugger-all. Rather than let me re-ask the question, he interpreted it for me. But it became: “Can you change the oil in a steering damper?”

The second counter staff man said “Good question”, and rang someone to ask it.

The unknown person on the other end of the phone proceeded to immediately ask: “What make and model?” (which is probably fair enough as the question had been changed from the general to the specific) and then give detailed instructions on how steering dampers have internal valving and these should be changed, rather than the oil altered.

Trouble is, I hadn’t asked that. So I said it all over again:

(1) Are oils of different viscosities available for steering dampers

(2) If that was the case, did this shop have any of those oils?

Incidentally, while all this stuffing around was going on, I had a highly active, wriggling and excited 20 month old boy in my arms who was desperate to escape so that he could touch all those gloriously shiny and new motorbikes filling the shop.

Incredibly, when he heard the original questions I had posed, the second counter man again jumped on the phone to ring his expert.

“Nah, he wants to change the oil in the steering damper,” the guy said. “Yeah, he must have an old model: there aren’t any internal valves.”

The expert on the other end of the phone clearly didn’t believe this and so I heard one side of another conversation dealing all over again with how steering damper valves should be altered. When the phone call finished, I’d had enough.

“Look,” I said. “It’s bullshit that all steering dampers have internal valving. This one doesn’t.”

I vaguely noticed that other customers were turning to look at me, so perhaps my voice was slightly raised.

“Inside this damper”, I said very precisely, “there is a bare, undersize piston. It slides within the bore of the damper body, with the oil flowing back and forth past the small gap around the piston.

Do you have oil that is used in steering dampers?”

Click for larger image

“Well,” said the counter man, “what you need is fork oil.”

He took two steps to a nearby display stand and pointed. And there were a whole bunch of ultra low viscosity oils of different ratings….

“Why the hell didn’t you just tell me the oils were here?” I asked with dreadful calm.

“Oh,” he said, “I like learning things as well….”

No goddamn wonder I much prefer to do my research and buy stuff on-line…

6 Responses to 'Jeez, how do spare parts counter assistants keep their jobs?'

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  1. mark said,

    on June 25th, 2008 at 12:22 am

    (terms and conditions link didnt work)

    Shut up u arrogant wanker Julian! What the hell was the point of this “article” (bitch session)?. Those assistants probably get idiots who dont know what they need (but think they do), coming in all the time… it only makes sense to ask questions.

    Ever though of that…….Mr. Clever?!

  2. Ben said,

    on June 25th, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Mark, the problem was that the assistant(s) didn’t actually answer his question, despite knowing the answer. The correct answers for “Are there different oils available for steering dampers?” are either: “Yes, and they are over there”, “Yes, but we don’t have any”, “No, but (alternative product) might do the trick”, “I Haven’t heard of any, I will look it up”, or “No, there isn’t”. None of those answers were given straight up.

    Instead, the answer was to another question (more than likely “How do I change the characteristics of my steering damper?”) which wasn’t actually asked. It sounds like the assistant was already told that the damper wasn’t actually being used for steering on a motorbike.

    A similar situation would be asking about different thermo-fans and being told to change the radiator. An almost unrelated answer was given, when a simple ‘If you look on that shelf to your right…” would have done the trick.

  3. mark said,

    on June 26th, 2008 at 12:38 am

    Yes im very aware they didnt answer the question *DIRECTLY*…………..its still just a case of Julian carrying on like a Bitch, writing about it n all.

  4. Gavin Stanbridge said,

    on August 1st, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I whole heartedly understand exactly what julian is experiencing here. After visiting all local auto stores in my area, A simple task of supplying a fuel filter with the same diamiter couplings as the one on my Volvo 850 T5R was always met with “make and model and then sorry we dont stock parts for that model” The frustrating thing being that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pick up an exact replacement, however the ability to use one from another model would of been Ideal if the staff were willing to answer the question I had asked or bothered to put in a little effort and take a look. I’ve worked in many different industrys, and yes customers can be very anoying, but I always go that extra bit further to offer some help. Maybe i am blessed with a little more commonn sense than the average auto parts worker. Regards Gavin Stanbridge.

  5. Erin said,

    on August 16th, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I don’t think you should generalise ALL spare parts people in this, there are plenty of GOOD spare parts interpreters out there that ask the right questions and answer with the right answers!

  6. Holden Man said,

    on November 8th, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I am a spare parts interpreter myself and yes the first question I would ask to everyone when they are walking in to our counter is “what is the make and model and serial number” otherwise we will waste our time. You guys as a customer has to realized that we are not walking encyclopedia and we simply would not know every single parts that are available out there in the market. And yes believe me all customers expected us to know everything, to have everything in stock etc. As a common sense in the business, we would not wasting our time looking for parts that we know are not available/hard to get when we know that the customer is not going to buy it anyway. So without make model/serial number all customers are f***ing time wasters and should be shown the door asap by saying “we dont have such parts in stock / we dont have information on such vehicle”. Yes welcome to spare parts business and next time you go into your local Repco etc please have all the informations handy and please dont try to be a “smarta**e” looking to change this part with that part as we would not reccommend anything oher than what the spare parts manul tells us.