Lying to the man behind the counter

Sometimes it is just easier to lie. Especially when you are wrenchin’ on something unusual – a Wartburg, an ancient Datsun or any car that has had an engine swap.

At most chain parts stores, the first thing they do is punch in the year, make and model of your car. No matter what you are asking for. And the pimply-faced kid behind the counter has no concept of simple mechanics. Say you just need a set of spark plugs. After all the info is punched in, you might be asked with a straight face, “Is that a diesel or gas motor?” Which usually stuns me into silence, an un-uttered “Ummmmmmmmm…” just waiting to escape from my dropped jaw.

If you are mixing and matching parts from different manufacturers, be ready for that sideways head-turn and dog-like look of confusion. “You need a set of pads for an ’85 Volvo 245 and front rotors for a ’93 Nissan Altima, for a ’67 Datsun What? Who makes that, Toyota?” Parts guy paralysis sets in, and he has no idea what to punch into the computer. You slink out of the store and hit two or three other parts stores around town, stopping at each for a different part trying to act as if you really do have an ’85 Volvo and a ’93 Altima waiting back home in the driveway.

The next visit you come prepared, with a good back story and maybe a few props to make it believable. Doing your best Joe Dirt imitation, mullet wig flapping in the breeze, you ask for a 60-amp alternator for an ’81 Camaro with a 305. No problems. Smooth transaction. You walk out with your hulking alternator and a smile on your face.

Sometimes you can be too clever and ask for a rear brake hose for a ’67 521 pickup and front hoses for a ’76 620 – even when you know the car you are parts-hunting for is in the computer. If you are really lucky, the guy behind the counter will disappear for an awkward moment or two and return with an honest-to-God grease-smudged parts book, pull up a stool and start flipping through the pages. This is when you can take off the cowboy hat and eyepatch – you’ve found a real parts store. Time to come clean and fess up to what you are working on and what you really need.

Next time you can leave the get-ups at home and stop off for some doughnuts on the way to the store. Pull up a stool, make yourself comfortable and reward the parts guy for his willingness to help you find what you need.

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