Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.
Mark, who has been with the business for
over 20 years, is an ASE
Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE
L1 certification, and has an associates degree
in business management.
(Printed in the Journal
of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP)
Early this year I decided to go over our shop computer's annual parts reports. Each year on December 31, our system prints a report of stocking parts that never sold for the entire year. Since it was already February, I figured I'd better get to work sending back these dead parts. Thirty-five plus years of constant business with the same primary part's provider enables us to send back bulk returns without much questioning. I called my contact with this part's store (I'll substitute the name of Mr. Parts for this article) and we agreed on a date to meet and go over the inventory.
During our meeting the following week, Mr. Parts and I decided to return any belts, ignition wires and brake shoes that had not sold during the last year. We agreed to take on a small inventory of timing belts to help offset his part's store's large credit to us. During this time, we got to catch up on conversation about business and how the past year was for both the parts and service industry. At this point our discussion took an interesting turn. Mr. Parts was discussing a gas station that he sells parts to. The station has been purchasing more parts now that they have been performing state inspections. In the conversation, Mr. Parts said that he liked the manager of this station because he rarely returns any parts. To quote exactly, he said: "When this station buys a part, I know it's sold." Since we also perform emission repairs, this comment peeked my interest. He went on to say that this inspection station owner will often call for driveability parts. Often he will specifically ask for Oxygen Sensors. If the store does not have the correct sensor in stock, he will say: "How about a MAP sensor for the same car?" I chuckled upon hearing that. It seemed to me that this guy was taking a stab at whatever he could try in hopes to lower the emissions of a car with an emissions reject. I explained to Mr. Parts how our technicians will drive the car with a portable five gas analyzer before attempting repairs. I went on to explain other testing that we do to decide exactly which parts are at fault. At this point Mr. Parts turned to me and said: "Your missing the point Mark. He's not buying the parts to fix cars that have failed the emission test." Now, I was really confused. Then Mr. Parts spoke a little more and the whole thing started to make sense. Mr. Parts went on to say that the inspection station was ordering these parts although the cars they were servicing might not need them. Evidently, they tell owners of cars that did not pass the emission test that they need a driveability part to pass. After they install the part, they just "get the car to pass." Talk about a money machine. To think, I used to say there's no money in doing stickers. Well, no legitimate money that is.
Even after 20 years in this industry some people still say I'm naive. I suppose they're right. Imagine, at first I thought this station was shotgunning trying to get the car to pass. Instead of testing and trying to find the problem they beat the system. Sell a part then fudge the test to pass. I think they call that easy money. Or is it illegal money? Unethical money perhaps?
I guess I'll never fully understand this industry. At least the majority of us out there play fair. The problem is, this type of "false passing" hurts repair only shops as we will never see any of these failed vehicles. Finally, the environment is also negatively impacted since this car now continues to pollute for another year.
All I know is that our shop still returns parts throughout the year. Let's face it. Sometimes the part doesn't always fix the problem. If it doesn't fix it, you don't install it.
Don't fudge it. Fix it.