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Speaking From Experience, They’re Not All The Same

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard this expression at the parts counter: “They’re all the same.”

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My first experience with this approach happened a long time ago.  My brother called me and said, “I just bought a motorhome that’s in really great shape for $500. Will you go with me to pick it up tomorrow?” I told him that sounded fishy to me. But, being the understanding brother I am, I agreed to go with him. 

As we approached the location, I looked at the motorhome and noticed that the thing really did look nice. However, by the time we got it home across town, it was overheating. When I walked into it, I noticed all kinds of cooling-system parts that had been replaced to try and cure the overheating problem. The cat was out of the bag: The previous owners had been trying to fix a mystery overheating problem, and they gave up.

I was a mechanic at the time, so I put my skills to work and figured out that there was a problem with the head gaskets. I removed the heads, and sure enough I found the wrong head gaskets had been installed – and the rest was downhill. 

I headed down to the local parts store and asked for some Dodge 440 head gaskets. I was real lucky because the parts guy was a friend of mine and a retired Dodge parts specialist. In passing, I mentioned to him what had happened to this engine. To my surprise, he asked, “Is it a motorhome?” I was a little surprised, and said, “Yes it is, why do you ask?” He explained to me that the motorhome 440 has extra cooling passages to help cool the engine under the load of that big box it pulls around. 

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We got the engine back together with the correct gaskets and it never
overheated again. 

I get that same scenario at my job now all the time. An example of that is when a customer comes in and asks for a Chevy small-block oil-pan gasket. When I ask for the year, make and model so I can get them the correct gasket, the customer invariably replies: “They’re all the same.” 

I can tell you, from experience, that they’re not all the same. 

In some models, the dipstick is on the right side; on some models, the dipstick is on the left side of the engine for clearance issues.

In older vehicles, this a big issue. When people install replacement engines in vehicles with unknown heritage, that’s where the fun starts.

Today we have Google to help us sort through these questions. Google is a great reference, but all the information that it gives you must be verified – no matter how well-intentioned the source of the information is. One of the things I deal with all the time at my parts counter is customers saying, “That’s what everyone is posting on the forums.” They don’t know they’re talking to an ASE-certified technician of 40 years; they’ll take the forum’s advice over mine every time.

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One other related area is people fearing that if they use an oil, coolant or other fluid in their vehicle that’s not listed in their owner’s manual, it will void their warranty. That is just not the case. 

The reason OEMs list certain manufacturers’ fluids is that they buy their fluids from that maker and have marketing agreements with that company. That same thinking makes people think they must use dealer parts, lest they void the warranty. The Right to Repair Act covers these issues and more.

In modern, unaltered vehicles, these problems are increasingly rare, because parts stores now have the ability to enter the vehicle identification number or license-plate number and correctly identify the correct parts for the vehicle. 

Thanks for reading.

Charles Dumont is an ASE-certified counter professional with NAPA Auto Parts in Shelton, Washington. A regular contributor to Counterman, Dumont is the 2020 NAPA/ASE Parts Specialist of the Year.

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