Are Auto Parts Stores a Thing of the Past?

How's the parking lot at your local auto parts store?

How’s the parking lot at your local auto parts store?

How much longer will auto parts stores be around?

In college I worked the parts counter at a national auto parts chain store in Seattle. I loved my job. I worked all day on Saturdays and Sundays and from 5 pm to 10 pm two to three times during the week. I loved helping out and learning about the customers’ project cars, learning about different parts for different cars and occasionally helping stranded motorists by changing a battery, doing an electrical test, even breaking the rules once and changing out an alternator right there in the parking lot. In the dark.

This was in the late 1990s, and the auto parts store was a busy environment of shared enthusiasm for cars and ambitious DIYers taking on repair projects for their beloved vehicles.

I have a feeling that culture is gone… or quickly vanishing.

I stopped in at an auto parts store a few weeks ago to pick up a headlamp for my car. The place was a rundown ghost town. A few workers milled in the back, each wearing their matching polo shirts, but none seemed anxious or even willing to help. I was the only customer. The products on the shelves throughout the store were dusty and obviously hadn’t been rotated, or even touched, in quite a long time.

I paid for my headlamp, “helped” by a surly woman in an ill-fitting polo, and left shaking my head. What a stark contrast to the busy, happy environment of the auto parts store I used to know. Heck, I remember this young blonde girl coming in and searching the shelves for a few minutes before I asked her if she needed help finding anything. She explained that she had some scratches on her car, and her brother sent her to the store to pick up some elbow grease, which would get the scratches out.

I’ve been laughing at that for 15 years now. Would young people today even think to send someone to the parts store, as a joke or not?

Today I drove by a few more auto parts stores, and all of them had empty parking lots. It made me wonder if people still frequent their local parts store, or if the combo of a sinking car culture and newer cars that are hard to work on are taking a toll on their future.

When did you last visit an auto parts store?


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  1. Thank you for sharing your positive experience of working in an auto parts store. My father is often in these shops searching for vintage parts to repair his old cars. As the years unfold, he finds it harder and harder to find the parts he is looking for. I hope that this culture will last as long as possible to bring people like you and my father the joy they need in this hobby.

  2. Although DIY automotive work is rather flat, the majority of auto parts stores sell to the professional mechanic. So while walk-in sales might be flat, most of the attention is directed toward commercial sales….that’s why auto parts stores are not a thing of the past; they are a necessary part of the automotive aftermarket supply chain.

  3. Here in Michigan auto part stores are very popular because so many people like to work on their cars.

  4. When I am in need of a small part for my car I usually find myself picking it up at Wal-Mart as it is less expensive and much more convenient that making an extra trip to a parts store.

  5. The NAPA near my house closed and was replaced by a sewing, cloth and pattern store. Now I have to go to Sears unless I want to drive twice as far, which I usually do to find a real auto parts store. That should tell you something.

  6. I certainly do buy parts. There are lots of items easy to fix for a car owner. Recently my CE light came on. When I bought my MR2 Spyder, I noted the seller had changed one of the two oxygen sensors, so I surmised the other had gone bad. The auto parts guy hooked up his reader and checked the code, which proved me right. The repair took only about an hour, and since I have the receipt for the same repair done by the previous owner, I could compare my $65 repair (55 after rebate on the part) to the dealer’s bill of nearly $200. The auto parts guy reset the code for me, too. I probably save several hundred dollars a year doing these kinds of minor repairs myself. Next will be plugs, another easy one for me to do myself.

  7. Between the targets and walmarts of the world, I haven’t been to an auto parts store on ages. Who buys alternators and starters, or even spark plugs, anymore? Just wipers, headlamps, and wax. And we don’t need parts stores for those.

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