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Unknown Parts Counter Guy: Diagnosing Problems Over The Phone? How About I Just Shake The Magic 8-Ball?

Unknown Parts Counter Guy: Diagnosing Problems Over The Phone? How About I Just Shake The Magic 8-Ball?

Ever since I was a kid wearing the small paper sack that Uncle Benny got with his “breakfast in a can”, two things were apparent to everyone that knew me. One, I was going to have a messed-up childhood and turn out to be a socially offensive adult. Two, I was going to be a gearhead. Some people might complain about how that is stereotyping a kid, not encouraging them, and all of that crap, but let’s be fair…it was accurate, because here we are. It’s four in the afternoon on the kind of summer day that has lizards seeking shade. The kind of day where the sun seems to set for hours, leaving that golden haze hanging in the air, along with the humidity and the smog and whatever those tiny little flying things are. For the most part, it has been a quiet day in the store, mostly because nobody wants to risk sweating through their shorts while doing something outside. Those that are willing to risk the swamp-ass are regular customers, the kind that know what they want, probably have the part number ready, and have the cash ready. Those dollar bills might be sweaty, but that’s the sweat of labor and hard work, not like that one time you took a stripper home and paid the pizza guy with what came out of…you know what, never mind.

Anyways, just as you’ve talked yourself into locking the door for five minutes so you can run across the street to Dairy Queen for anything made out of ice cream, the phone rings. You know the routine: “Hello, thank you for calling (INSERT STORE NAME HERE), how may I help you?”

“Hi, I own a Honda, and every time I turn the steering wheel, it makes this loud whirring noise that sounds like a (INSERT CAT BEING STRANGLED NOISE HERE) sound. What do I need to buy to fix that?”

over the phone diag

For those of you old enough to have seen The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on as host, you might remember Carnac the Magnificient. Wearing a large…turban, I guess…Carson, as Carnac, would hold an envelope to his head, “not knowing the answer”, rattle off an answer, then open up the envelope to see the original question. The jokes ranged from corny to absolutely great (“Siss-boom-bah. What is the sound a sheep makes when it explodes?”). I feel just about the same way, but instead of laughter I’m rolling my eyes hard enough that I’m getting the best look I can at my brain without cracking open my skull. Your car is capable of making a LOT of noises. A solid, steady vroom is the most appreciated one, but there are other noises, some less appreciated. The gurgling of a superheated radiator that is seconds away from giving your husband the hottest shower he’s ever gonna experience. The pop-BANG shift of a transmission that is probably going to take out second gear any minute now. The dog-whistle scream of a brake job that’s about 15,000 miles way overdue. And, of course, everybody’s favorite: the ka-whack, ka-whack, THUMP!, known to mechanics as the automotive “eff this, I quit” sound of Piston #3 making a grand escape through a new window in the block.

I don’t know why I have to keep telling people this, but it’s the truth: I sell auto parts and accessories. I can try to assist you if the car is in the parking lot, and I promise that if you don’t piss me off that I’ll do my best to help, but asking the parts counter clerk to diagnose your car is like asking your medical insurance agent to check your prostate. Something ain’t right in that regard, and you would be wise to seek out the professional instead of asking some random guy behind the counter to give you a hand with that. Go bug the mechanics and let me get back to my quickly-melting Peanut Buster Parfait, please.


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8 thoughts on “Unknown Parts Counter Guy: Diagnosing Problems Over The Phone? How About I Just Shake The Magic 8-Ball?

  1. elkyguy

    i feel your pain,upcg—i get those calls too,and they’re maddening—because of our company website,i get calls from all over the country—i had one genius call me over 3 consecutive fridays from florida(we’re in washington state),trying to get me to fix his problem over the phone—

    1. sbg

      I know why this is – in Washington we are passive aggressive. Thus, we sound like we care, make all the appropriate noises that we care, but in the end we’d push you off a cliff just to hear the splat.



    HI so yeah, I am having a problem with my car the check engine light is on and it is running really bad.
    —–What is it doing?
    Well it runs okay but when I stop it barely idles and when I try to go it does this chuga-chauga thing. I just had my brakes and oil changed last week and I think they may have done something to my car
    If I bring it over can you read the codes?
    —-Sure bring it by but let me tell you now it will not matter because 90% of the time the code will point to multiple issue or probabilities for repair.
    —–Oh well my dads a mechanic so we can figure it out once we have to codes.
    ——(on the inside) Kill me…kill me now!

  3. greg

    I love it when they don’t get the answer they want they ask the same thing differently and expect a different answer.

  4. Barry_R

    I used to manage a parts store in the inner city of Detroit. Saw some really creative ways to keep a car rolling with absolutely zero money to invest. But the descriptions of problems were awe inspiring.

    My favorite though came from another parts guy I met. His customer asked him to diagnose a sound:

    “When you mash down on the foot feed it skeeches and takes up slack like it’s packing sand”.

    I believe that he had a loose fan belt and a misfire under load 🙂

  5. Scooterz82

    Try answering the phone all day in a truck shop. Every truck driver already knows the answer to the question, they just want your confirmation. And if your over the phone diagnosis doesn’t match, you’re a no good dumb s.o.b.

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