Article > Mitch’s World

Let's Call Missing Auto Parts for What it Is: Theft

By Mitch Schneider

While the parts in question may only amount to a couple of dollars worth of nuts and bolts, the havoc that follows and the lost productivity and revenue that results, is substantial.
Mitch Schneider
“What exactly was in the bag?” came the response from my “First Call.”

I shook my head and after an unbearably long silence, responded:

“What was in the bag? How can I get you what was in the bag if I don’t know what was in the bag?”

On the surface it sounds like a legitimate question. How can you replace something that was missing if you don’t know what that something was? But, therein lay the problem: the only thing in the box was the manifold, which was right — as in both designed for the right bank of cylinders on the Suburban, and “right” as in correct. And a small torn and empty plastic bag.

The box that held the other manifold had both a bag with “stuff” in it and the left side manifold. But, there was essentially no way of knowing whether the “stuff” that was in the bag in the box for the left side manifold was the same “stuff” that was missing from the right side manifold’s container.

Hence, the question: “What exactly what was in the bag?”And, my answer: “I’m guessing there were studs, nuts, washers and springs in the bag, but I have no way of knowing! That’s what is in the bag that came with the left side manifold. But how am I supposed to know if the ‘stuff’ in both bags was the same?”

I spent a half-hour or more on the phone and at least as much time trying to understand what happened and why. My technician spent a lot more time than that trying to communicate what he had found well enough so I could spend my half-hour productively — and all this occurred while work on the vehicle effectively came to a screeching halt as everyone tried to figure out what had been in the empty bag.

There was no telling how much time was lost at the warehouse as they tried to figure things out. But when I hung up the phone there was a clear sense the meter was running!

And, why?

The obvious answer: Because someone ordered a manifold, removed what they needed — a hardware kit comprised of the required nuts, studs, washers and whatever — put the manifold back in the box and returned it with the torn and empty bag safely tucked inside.

Who did it? I’m not sure. And neither is the warehouse because no one checked to see if everything that was supposed to be there was there when the manifold was:

A. Picked up at the shop responsible for ransacking the box;

B. Received at the warehouse;

C. Put back into stock;

D. Removed from stock to fill another order; or

E. All of the above!

I know the driver in most cases neither wants the additional responsibility of ensuring that everything that should be in a box being returned is, in fact, in the box. Nor, does he or she relish the confrontation that is bound to result when they open an opened box marked for return to verify everything that ought to be there is there. But someone ought to check and if not the driver, then who? And if not before it leaves the shop responsible for opening the box then, when?

I believe the time to do it is before the returned merchandise leaves the physical location of the shop responsible for the theft. And regardless of the polite euphemisms we choose to use in order to avoid calling what happened something other than that which it was, it is still stealing, plain and simple. And, while the parts in question may only amount to a couple of dollars worth of nuts and bolts, the havoc that follows and the lost productivity and revenue that results, is substantial.

And that isn’t the only cost to be considered. What about credibility — yours as a supplier; and, mine as a
customer/client? After all, sitting where you sit, you have no way of knowing who the guilty party is — me, or the guy before me, not unless someone checks before a box that has been opened and then returned is delivered a second time.
What would checking accomplish? If nothing else it would ensure the shop that ordered merchandise in good faith was not penalized for someone else’s larceny or lack of concern.

It would ensure the purchased product was delivered as designed with everything the manufacturer intended in the box. It would give you as a responsible distribution professional the information you need to determine which of your customers needs to be “eighty-sixed!”

That’s right, “eighty-sixed,” as in fired! Because I’d be willing to bet that a shop or a technician that would do something like that once is likely to do it more than once.

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at [email protected]
  Previous Comments
avatar   BC   star   4/10/2010   10:03 AM

Mike, I agree but the thing is that these local shops know there are so much competition out here between aftermarket parts stores that they can pull these stunts and 99% of the time get away with it because they can just threaten to take all their business elsewere. It sucks but when you're in a market surrounded by other parts stores, what are you going to do? Depending on the shops monthly business with us, i just suck it up and take the returned part no matter if it's resellable or not. I guess that's why the mean green corp made a warranty return feature.

avatar   Mitchesdreamworld   star   2/5/2010   3:46 PM

Mitch you are in such a dream world. I'ts a bag of bolts. grab some dormans and take care of the customer. Hell you probably took em out of that box to give to someone else a while back, your just getting too senile to remember. Why does this mitch guy write for this magazine???? Next will be "Is it too much to ask for pink toilet paper"

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   2/1/2010   3:06 PM

Ryan, I'm surprised they let you get away with "Japanese Inspection" without a bunch of crap in this politically correct world of ours. It's cool with me.

avatar   Ryan   star   12/11/2009   3:55 PM

I do what I call"Japanese inspection". If I find suspect item. I set it on the shelf and wait for my insallers to call me. If they don't call in a week it gets trashed. I have a particular customer who is notorius for robbing parts out of boxes, using items as test parts, and trying to get credit on oe parts for warranty. If it is legit they will call. If they do not call, They know they have been caught. I tried calling and explaining they only leads to hurt feelings on both sides.

avatar   Mike   star   12/8/2009   2:55 PM

To begin with independent shop's on returns. These shops need to be set a higher standards just like dealerships, their are way to many shadtree technicians working at shops that shouldn't. Most are parts changers, which is a high reason for returns. I can't stand getting back a return, open the box to find that it has been installed, so that means I can't resale the parts.These shop's know real well they can't pull these stunts with the dealerships, so why do they think they can with the aftermarket? I also blame the shop owners if they would pay for good help, like what the dealerships pay to get the best techs, they might have a better shop with less returns.

avatar   Buzz Killington   star   12/2/2009   10:52 AM

We had an incident yesterday at one of our stores that I thought needed to be brought to everyone's attention. A long time customer of ours who is a small independent shop,returned a harmonic balancer as a new return.Upon inspection,it was found to be the used part that he had spent alot of time painting in a way that required close inspection to detect. I would have never thought that this particular customer would attempt to pull something like this,but I guess it is truly a sign of the times,so I would like to get the word out to all our stores that no matter who the customer or what the situaton is,Please take the additional few seconds to carefully inspect all returns.

avatar   bill   star   11/16/2009   8:17 AM

how are we supposed to know what comes in each box i know our brand of intake manifolds are about 50/50 if it comes with the gaskets and that is strait from the factory

avatar   dave elliott   star   10/20/2009   10:51 AM

I hear ya Ed. That is what in reality should happen. And I think most retailers do have that as a part of morning paperwork. But pencil whipping is done resulting in parts slipping thru the cracks. Roy, its a good question. And the answer is "you just have to know" and it comes with experience. But it is never cut and dried. I learn every day, and I've been in it 31 years.

avatar   Ed   star   10/17/2009   8:46 AM

Dave, Advance Auto Parts had a great system in place, it was called a Hold Shelf. It held the day's cores, warranties and general returns. The opening manager the next day was tasked with checking every box. We identified thieves, scammers and employees on the take with a wooden shelf. However, as it is the way with AAP, managers felt they had more important things to do in the morning, so the shelf got neglected and continued non-compliance company-wide resulted not in bad performance reviews or write-ups, but rather the return hold shelf getting removed from the store's audit paperwork. Every morning at a different retailer, a returns audit sheet prints with the morning paperwork, how many managers/assistant managers actually pick up the box and open it, rather than just counting to see if its there?

avatar   Roy   star   10/16/2009   3:08 PM

Given the hundreds of thousands of parts in the market, how would someone know which parts the factories have decided to include a small parts package with?

avatar   Dave Elliott   star   10/15/2009   10:17 AM

I think that we all agree that checking every box is a time consuming task, but a necessary one for the best customer service. I know it can't be checked always just as soon as it hits the door, but somewhere between coming back in and being put back on the shelf, there should be time for someone to have a look. Now we get to the point of having stuff come in from the distribution center already opened, or used. or a core shipped in as new. Now I know none of your distribution centers ever do this. (insert your laugh or yeah right, here) But humor me, how do you deal with this? Any suspicious looking box, previously opened, the like, I look at, others I don't. But someone who knows what's up, needs to check out boxes before they go out.

avatar   howard gregory   star   10/13/2009   11:52 AM

We walk a very fine line here mitch. As part sellors we are required to do just that sell. Sell like our lives depend on it. Getting a bad name in the town where you sell could be costly. Checking boxes is a great way to keeep this from happening. If we slow our process and check box after box that leaves our hand we will get a bad name for slowing the flow of business. Now I know that work ground to a halt in this instance and thats never a good thing. slowing down the delivery will slow things to a creep in the shop and thats bad too. Checking a return and finding missing parts is also bad; however calling the shop where it came from and accusing someone of stealing is career suicide. Im almost posotive that will end the relationship between shop and store instantly with out question. Not many stores carry a "detailer" a person whose job it is to check returns from general population and shops. The "detailer" does exactly as it sounds checks over the details and if something is missing it is ente

avatar   Jeff   star   10/8/2009   5:23 PM

Corey nailed it!! I have got countless parts back missing items and was told "that's how I got it" even though I checked it before it left. We as parts pros must wear cups to work as we are always getting kicked.

avatar   Crash Test Dummy   star   10/8/2009   9:45 AM

Guys listen to Corey cause "You can learn alot from a dummy".

avatar   Matthew   star   10/6/2009   10:38 AM

Accountability! Pure and simple. I know the parts person more than likely didn't take anything from the box, but the fault goes back to them. If they had checked the box before it left, they would have known up front. Of course, the fault also lies with the original parts person who didn't check the box when it was returned. I, personally, have no problem confronting people on returns. I have even been known to 'mark' products if I feel foul play coming on. I have too. I have a family to support and can't afford crap like that. We all must check every thing coming and going to ensure every thing is right. It's our job! I agree with Mitch. Theft, pure and simple and someone needs to be fired.

avatar   Steve Abrams   star   10/1/2009   3:58 PM

Is it unreasonable to expect to get what you pay for? I would think that the person who sold this to Mitch is equally frustrated by the missing parts. I doubt very much that it is their fault either. As Mitch stated most likely someone took the parts they needed and sent what they didn't back. I admit that I don't open every box that comes in and goes out, but I also admit that it is my responsibility and mine alone to make sure every box that I send out has everything in it that my customer is paying for. I certainly would not blame the customer for being angry with me for not sending all the parts in the box that belonged there.

avatar   AskANinja   star   10/1/2009   3:51 PM

Corey, you better watch out, Mitch knows martial arts.

avatar   Corey   star   9/30/2009   12:54 PM

If you claim to open EVERY box, EVERY time, you're either a bold face liar or you work in a VERY slow, overstaffed store. Mitch became the bad guy when he decided to hold me to a higher standard than reasonable. These things happen. It is my job to correct the problem quickly and get on to the next opportunity of the day. Those who spend too much time stressing over perfection are the ones that end up on heart medication.

avatar   Steve Abrams   star   9/29/2009   3:53 PM

I don't understand how Mitch became the bad guy here, all he is doing is expecting to get what he paid for. It is the job of everyone involved in getting the ordered part to the customer that ordered it with all the items in the box that are intended to be there and there is no excuse for it not being right. Not that I am perfect or have never had it happen to me, but in 17 years I have learned to check the box before the parts are delivered or returned.

avatar   Brian   star   9/26/2009   4:26 PM

You want to know something? This scenario happens more often than anyone here would like to admit. Whether taking parts out of a box because your shop/customer said the small part wasn't in there or blah blah blah,etc... We know the excuses. We have all heard them a million times or more. I know the delivery driver may not be the one to "cause a scene" while at the shop or but ALWAYS check the parts on the way out. it takes about 5 seconds and can save about 2 hours of useless finger pointing. If I can do it and still be one of the most productive here at my location, anyone can. Less hassle, fewer returns. If the parts aren't all there then my customer isn't blamed and if it leaves with all the parts and comes back without them, then I know what happened. I know when you are busy with 10 lines ringing and people piled up 15 deep on each counter it may seem like a waste but it has helped us just to take the time out to open the box. If you receive the box opened, as in the case of gaskets or carb kits, take

avatar   Ed   star   9/26/2009   3:32 PM

Dan, "First Call" typically only stocks the 92 to 95 TBI exhaust manifolds, which use the same size studs on both sides. The "Vortec" and LS-variant years following that used different length studs. Daniel, that creates a whole new paradigm of problems, of 15 years, I am sure you have run into it a few times. A gasket set opened, but told by the shop "Its the wrong one" or "Didn't need it" and they become quite uncooperative when you try to find them "the right one", so you return it anyway. Had a body shop do this to me recently, handed me back a window lift motor, I opened the box to inspect, it was covered in greasy fingerprints and I informed him I could not return installed parts as new. He blew up saying it wasn't installed, that he only plugged it in to see if the original switch was bad and that it shouldn't matter anyway since the lift motor was reman. Instead of continuing to argue, I just did it as a warranty return.

avatar   Corey   star   9/24/2009   10:11 AM

My guess is that if you held Mitch responsible for the actions of HIS employees, as he would expect his First Call to do, he would squeal like a pig! DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM!!? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I SPEND WITH YOUR COMPANY! I'LL GET TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS! Then he hangs up, calls his sales rep, who calls their boss, who calls your boss, who tells you to call cry baby Mitch and say "sorry" for doing your job. Relax Mitch. The world is not out to get you. Mistakes will occur, your parts pro will "fix" it, and go on to the next task of the day. Over thinking the problem will only make the job more time consuming and no more effective.

avatar   Daniel   star   9/22/2009   1:38 PM

As an counterman for the last 15yrs this has happened countless times rule of thumb any thing tapped back up before it leaves your counter always recheck it you and your shops will be glad you did, remember gaskets are non-returnable after being opened especially after the shop takes out that little gasket that only comes in the set.

avatar   DAN   star   9/21/2009   5:21 PM


avatar   Andrew   star   9/7/2009   7:43 PM

I would bet twenty bucks on it being a counter professional. I have done it once or twice to make a customer happy. I though sold the bag of parts under the part number that would replace it or warrantied it out.

avatar   Ed   star   9/5/2009   3:21 PM

"But how am I supposed to know if the ‘stuff’ in both bags was the same?”" Years of experience in the trade would tell you the obvious answer, also, you weren't working on an Alfa Romeo, TVR or similar car that was designed by a 10 year old and put together by mad scientists from the former Soviet Russia. You were working on a Chevy, a GM product, a company that will keep reusing the same part, even if it is over 30 years old. More than likely your "First Call" had the exhaust bolts already in stock and delivered them to you with post haste, along with an apology.

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