I look up and pull a lot of my own parts at the dealership. Those experiences have given me new respect for the guys and gals behind the parts counter who wait on walk-in customers. When I pull parts, they're for a machine I just tore apart in the shop. Those battered souls behind the parts counter must often literally guess at what parts their customers need for machines miles away, and often taken apart by someone other than the person sent to pick up the parts.
I've heard tales of customers who knew only the color of the piece of equipment that needed parts (red, green, yellow...) and that it was "one of the big ones." Parts guys have told me of customers who described a belt as being located "on the north side of the combine." And there are many stories of frustrated, angry customers storming back into the dealership after the parts person guessed wrong and sent incorrect parts.
So, to minimize customer frustration and ease the lives of parts people across the country, here are the bare minimums a customer should provide if they want fast, accurate service when seeking parts at a dealership:
-The model number and size. For example, a "45-foot, model 980 field cultivator." The width of a tillage tool, small grain platform, corn head or other variable-size equipment can often made a difference in what parts are used. A 12-row cornhead uses a two-piece cross auger, while smaller cornheads use one-piece augers. It gives your parts person a head start in the battle if they know the size of the machine.
-Complete serial number. Yes, it's a hassle to find that little serial number plate and copy down the long string of letters and numbers. But equipment manufacturers often change or update within model years. An early 1990 combine may have different parts than a late 1990 combine. Those changes/updates are keyed to the machine's serial number. An experienced parts person may be able to guess if that combine is an early or late model if you casually mention that, "Yeah, Dad bought that in January and we got it just before planting season," but having the serial number guarantees getting the correct parts.
-Two serial numbers. Tractors, combines and other powered machines usually have a machine serial number and a separate serial number for the engine. If you're getting parts even remotely associated with the engine--fuel filters, fuel lines, radiator components, etc., be sure to have the engine serial number as well as the machine serial number. This is critical with new machines with Tier III engines. There are dozens of fuel filters for the same basic engine block, depending on where and how the engine is used (combine vs. tractor vs. windrower vs. irrigation pump). The ONLY way to get the right part related to a Tier III fuel system is to have the engine serial number.
-The busted parts. It puts a parts person's mind at ease if they can lay a new part beside the damaged/worn out part and visually confirm that they match. Many metal parts have casting numbers. plastic parts have mold i.d. markings, and belts often have parts numbers embedded or embossed somewhere along their back edge to help ensure a perfect match. If the part is big and oily or ungainly, leave it in the back of your pickup--the parts guy will gladly walk out and take a look if it will help ensure you're getting the right part.
Even with model and serial numbers it's sometimes a challenge to get the right parts the first time. It's not uncommon for us mechanics to make a couple trips to the back parts counter before we get the right part, and we're supposed to be experts on the machines we work on.. So cut the parts person behind the counter some slack the next time you need parts for a piece of equipment. They'll do their best for you, if you've done your best to provide them accurate information.
It's like the sign that one grizzled parts man posted on the wall behind his counter: "If you'll do your best to guess at the model number and serial number of your machine, I'll do my best to guess at what part you need to fix it."