Dangers of buying automotive accessories online

Posted: June 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
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It’s no secret that online stores have great prices-but don’t forget why traditional ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores are still a better way to go for automotive accessories, particularly when you’re looking at something that is hundreds of dollars or even up over a thousand dollars, and more importantly, specific to your vehicle.

Knowing your car

 The first thing you need to know before you shop for the accessory or part you’re looking for is to identify what you’re driving, and what’s available for that model, such as the year and make of your vehicle. I’ve spent enough time looking up parts to know that in order to get the correct part, vehicle applications can vary depending on years, models, trim packages, special editions and the like, and it can get a little confusing. The applications can be so daunting in fact that many online databases simply cannot decipher the exact vehicle you have. Some sites are better than others, but knowing exactly what you have to make sure you get the right part is key-VERY key.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about. Assume you own a 2007 Chevy Silverado pickup, that was the first year of the current bodystyle, but if you got the heavy duty (2500 or 3500) model, it is what General Motors refers to as the ‘classic’ bodystyle, meaning it’s the same body that was used prior to 2007, and they kept that body with the heavier duty trucks into the following year. However, if you bought your new Chevy (the light duty 1500 version) early in the year, it may still be the classic body. So, many databases will not know that your truck is actually a 2006 body and not like the current year. The current Chevy and GMC models are also slightly different, even though many people think they are the same (up until 2007, GMC and Chevy truck beds were interchangeable, this was the first year they have not been like that). This seems to happen in cycles. An almost identical scenario happened in 1999/2000 when that generation of GM trucks first hit the market. The 2004 Ford F150 is another classic example, if you have the Heritage model; it’s actually a 2003 body and chassis. Confused yet? You’re not alone, and these are just two examples. This is why the person behind the counter at an accessory or parts store is better equipped to get you the right part, because they’ve seen all the different models and probably found out the hard way by getting the wrong parts already, but have since learned what is what. They need to know these things in order to do their job, and no offense to ‘e-tailers’, but they sit at a desk on a phone and have probably not dealt with the parts they’re selling in a ‘hands-on’ sort of way. Remember, just because YOU think you know exactly what you have, doesn’t always mean you do.

Why shipping isn’t always free

So if and when you get the wrong part ordering online, that free shipping is no longer free because you have to pay to send it back, unless you want to have to deal with calling the e-tailer to get reimbursed for getting the wrong part, but if you made the mistake by not knowing exactly which vehicle you had, good luck getting credit for that shipping charge. The other way you get the shaft on having to return something that was originally shipped for free is if the part you bought simply doesn’t work, for reasons you didn’t anticipate. An example of this is if you were to buy something like a cargo divider for your truck bed and it didn’t work because you had an aftermarket hard tonneau cover that got in the way, although you thought it wouldn’t be a problem. This would be your fault, so although you didn’t have to pay for shipping to receive it, you do have to pay shipping to return it. Believe it or not, if the box is ‘oversized’, the cost to ship it back to the manufacture or e-tailer could be almost as much-or more, than what you originally paid! If you had bought this in a store, the salesperson would have known the part would not work, and even if they didn’t, it would have been their responsibility for getting it wrong, and would have to give you all your money back. Remember to always ask a store salesperson if the part you want to order is a ‘special’ order, because sometimes those types of orders cannot be returned or they can but a ‘restock’ fee will be charged. If it’s simply a matter of a part sitting in a local distributor’s warehouse, then it’s usually no problem for a store to just return a part with no extra cost to them or you-but always ask to make sure this is the case.

Warranty issues

Things break, come damaged, or are just plain defective. If you buy something online, dealing with a warranty issue takes time and just isn’t fun at all. You have to do the calling, you have to wait on hold, you have to ship back the old parts-need I say more? When you buy something at a brick and mortar store, they have to do all of this for you, that is to say they SHOULD do all of this for you. Smart store owners know that they are competing with online retailers and that their only ace in the hole is good customer service. You may pay a little more, but you have the piece of mind to know that if you have any issues at all, it will be taken care of with little hassle to you.

Go for it

If you’re 100 percent sure you have the right part number and know exactly what you’re getting, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of a good online deal. I find it helpful to look at reviews of products-Amazon is good for that. Online forums are also good. Just remember that most brick and mortar stores can meet or beat almost any competitive price, and if they can’t, it’s because e-tailers have removed the only thing that really matters from the box: the service before, during, and after the sale.

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