The “throw-away” economy: automotive edition


I spent an extremely frustrating two hours yesterday trying to identify the parts I needed for a minor automotive procedure.  I have the two cross-bars to fit the longitudinal rails of my Nissan Pathfinder SUV’s roof-rack, but I don’t have the screws for them.  I needed to identify what those screws were, and order some.

The saga began when I went to the Nissan dealership in nearby Big City.  The parts and service department said they had no idea what the screws were, and couldn’t order them for me.  The only solution (according to them) was to order a complete cross-bar kit (which would come with the appropriate screws), and throw away those I already had.  Needless to say, this would cost well over $200.  Thanks, but no thanks.

I then tried to find out from Nissan USA what the part number for the screws might be.  Their Web site again pointed me to the cross-bar kit, but offered no clue as to what the screws might be.  I tried the “Contact Us” form on the Web site, only to be informed within a few minutes:

“Unfortunately, Nissan Consumer Affairs does not have the capability to order component parts or have access to inventory. We suggest you contact or visit your closest Nissan dealer and speak with the Parts Department.”

Gee.  Thanks for the help – NOT!!!

Frustrated, I turned to the Internet and tried several different searches.  None returned exactly what I wanted, but one eventually came close.  It located Nissan’s installation instructions for the cross-bars on the Rogue SUV, which apparently use the same screws as those on the Pathfinder.  The instructions included a description of the screws (“M6 Torx Bolt – 26 MM Long”), and a part number.  However, when I tried to order eight of them from the local Nissan dealer, using the correct part number, I was told they couldn’t do that – they could only order the complete cross-bar kit.  An attempt to locate the part through Nissan’s Web site also resulted in failure.

By now I’d been at it for over two hours.  To say I was frustrated is putting it mildly!

I’ve given up on Nissan.  To find the screws, I’m going in to the local Fastenal dealership in nearby Big City this morning, and I’ll ask them to locate the nearest thing they can to the screws I need.  Their Web site has already proved helpful, in that it’s found a 25mm screw of the right type, as opposed to Nissan’s specified 26mm.  If the slightly shorter screw will do the job, I’ll buy it.  What’s more, eight screws should cost less than $5.00, as opposed to about fifty times that to buy a new cross-bar kit.  Take that, Nissan!

Anyone else got spare parts horror stories to share?  Let us know in Comments.



  1. I wonder if the design engineer got an award for specifying a bolt that was 1mm longer than standard??? And, if the extra 1mm is really needed.

  2. Just use a self tapping bolt / screw.

    I had a similar issue with my Nissan, and I actually ordered the screw from the dealer. It seems depending where the car is made, the screw may vary.

    1. End result was screw I ordered from Nissan did not fit. So I went to a commercial hardware store and bought a self tapping bolt that worked.

  3. Peter, you're overthinking it.

    You tried the logical things, in a reasonable order. But the system is not working very well these days for the owner-handyman. The Parts Dept. person you dealt with was not trying very hard, or willing to think outside his little box.

    Pity the unskilled owner of little financial means and no helpful friends. Is it chauvinistic to suggest that (among others) single working women get preyed upon in these situations? Does it help to explain the unmaintained cars we see surrounding us on the roads continually?

    It is a good thing to have a friend, or to meet someone who excels at his craft!

  4. Try next time. Boought a used Cayenne diesel, and the local Porsche dealer wanted $397 for an oil change. Sourced a filter from Rock Auto, 12 qts (it takes 7.75) motor oil from Amazon, a torque wrench & 22 mm socket from a local hardware. Amazon also had a pump that extracted the oil through the dipstick tube.

    Total cost, including pump, was $125. $105 next time.

  5. order the kit, remove the required bolts, and return the kit as defective since it is missing the bolts.

    1. Or measure the bolts to get the correct size, and then return it. Of course test to make sure the bolts actually work.

  6. Would help to know the year of your pathfinder.

    Simple "Duck Duck Go" search "nissan pathfinder roof rack bolts" found:

    On Amazon (oh bane of existence,) there were several different items for the search.

    This image covers 2005-2012 Nissan Pathfinders. There's a bunch of different bolts with their part numbers.

  7. As a mechanic for the last 40 + years I have scads of nightmare stories like this but I think my favorite one was the time I needed a replacement carburetor for the straight six engine in my 1961 Ford Styleside Pick Up.
    They were only made for 3 years, 61-63 and the cab and the bed were all one unit like a Ranchero.
    I waltzed into a local Schmucks Auto parts place, waited in line for a few and then spent over a half an hour trying to help some poor sweet young lady that looked like she had just graduated high school try to identify and locate this SINGLE BARREL carb.
    Back and forth, back and forth, she would try to look it up, go in the back and come back with something that looked like it belonged on a 1942 FarmAll tractor.
    Meanwhile the line behind me is getting longer and longer and I can hear the mutterings.
    I tried to help her but she was an independent and capable woman by golly.
    She finally broke me when she looks up from the parts catalog with those baby blue eyes and asks me dead serious if I have a TWO VOLT or a FOUR VOLT carburetor.
    I looked at her in disbelief and told her that she couldn't help me.
    When I turned around to leave and saw at least six guys behind me waiting I said out loud, Good Luck Fella's and walked out.

  8. Back in '71 through '76, while in college I had a '70 Ford Maverick. Saving what money I had for college expenses and trivial items like food, and shelter, as well as essentials like beer, meant I did all maintenance and repair work myself. The Maverick found many creative ways to fail, especially things attached to or going through the dash/firewall. Part of the reason I got the Maverick was I figured parts would be readily available from the local Ford dealer, unlike my roommate's Toyota where everything seemed like it came from Los Angeles. So when the collapsable shit tube around the steering column collapsed without warning or accident, guess where I had to order the replacement shift column came from, yep L.A. Oh, by the way, the '70 Maverick came in two versions the "early" version did not have a locking steering column, the "late" one did. I had the "early" one, but unless you told the parts guy that you had the "early" one the default was the "late" one which necessitated sending the offending part back to L.A and ordering the correct part.

  9. I had an 80 or so Mazda GLC. The adjustment screw for the throttle cable on the carb somehow disappeared. Get a new screw, right? Not hardly-get a new carb and pay shop labor rate to put it on. This was before the days of the Internet, so the ability to find a work-around for this highway robbery was limited.

    I drive an old GMC pickup now. They were made by the scads of millions, and are about as well supported by the aftermarket as could be. Lots of owners' forums. I'm very happy with my old truck.

  10. ACE Hardware. they have the bolt in a bin. Cost will be 7-23 cents per bolt. you could also get stainless. You have the bolt dimension. Does not need to be from Nissan.

  11. One way to address the problem is to find someone with the same roof rack and remove a bolt to measure/compare to figure out what it is.

    I've had occasion to resort to this method of parts identity over the years. When I worked in a Parts Dept, or store, I've done this for customers when the books didn't have the data needed to go that deep into an assembly. In some cases the part was essentially a custom made item, so no identical part was available, and it might have to be created from a similar part, or made from scratch.

    In my case, I was already an experienced mechanic, so I had a background to leverage, but not all parts people had that to work with, and/or didn't care to go the extra mile to help a customer, whether they were retail or trade. It wasn't uncommon for me to deliver a part to a shop, and then have to troubleshoot the problem the mechanic was encountering, and instruct him on how to mount it.

    A knowledgeable counterman in a parts store can be a treasure. I've been out of that line of work for so long, that it is a real relief when I find one that is helpful.

  12. Can't believe no one has suggested going to the junkyard/scrapyard/recycler to find a like vehicle and remove the screws from that one. Then again, even those are getting fewer and farther between. Good luck!

  13. I put my old Dodge into a dealership for some general repairs once, minor stuff. It sat there almost a week and they told me they couldn't fix it. My jaw hung open. It was an electric window regulator that had gone out. You can't fix that??? Mad as hell at having been inconvenienced for days with my truck tied up, I went home, got onto Amazon, ordered the part, watched a couple of YouTube fix-your-Dodge-window-regulator videos while it was in shipment, and then changed the damn thing out myself. Took 40 minutes. Needless to say, the dealership is off my Christmas Card list.

  14. Frustrating ain’t it? I’ve run into that infrequently, but often enough that if I can’t source the fasteners from the dealer, I have a set of thread gauges and/or spare screws, nuts and bolts that I can use to ID the thread/pitch, then go to Ace Hdw. and get what I need.

  15. Find an enthusiast forum for your vehicle. Virtually everything made in the last 30 years has at least one forum dedicated for it, jammed full of people ready and willing to answer questions like this. The REALLY obscure cars will have two or more that compete to be more helpful and snarky at each other. (Think and, but with less dark humor.)

  16. I now drive a 2004 "New Body" F-150. Did you know that Ford outsourced the drive shaft for the new style F-150 in 2004? It is "non-servicable", which means the whole darned thing has to be replaced when it fails. You can't even replace the universal joints. . . My first was a 1970 F-100, and the second was a 1990 F-150. I have always liked the F Series trucks. Man, I wish I still had one of the old ones.

  17. One of my few tricks, learned in a similar manner to your experience here Peter, is I remove, say, a roof rack for a time, I take the small parts, put them in a sturdy freezer or storage-type ziplock bag, and tape the fasteners' bag to one of the bigger parts, using sturdy tape, like fiber tape or heavy-grade packing tape. They do not normally get lost, whether moving, or just storing the items.

  18. I've learned the same about motorcycle nuts and bolts, I buy them from local hardware stores (usually Grade 8 stainless, so they won't need replacing ever again).

    Fortunately, it's seldom that hard to figure out what I need – several dealers have the complete oem parts fiches online, so the dimensions are readily available, as are the exact OEM part numbers.

    Which once lead to a fascinating discovery. On my old Suzuki Intruder, the side panel was held on by friction: studs on the panel were pushed through rubber grommets in the frame. Local dealer wanted $10 ea for them, online places wanted $6, but with usurious shipping. Funny enough, a search for that same oem sku number came up with the same part being used as a vibration damping grommet for Suzuki outboard marine engines. Price: $6.50 for a bag of 10.

  19. We are missing the retaining spring for one of the front headlights of wife's car. That particular set up was used for just three yeas and a replacement spring is unavailable. We can, however, purchase a new headlight assembly for $600. I bit of bailing wire has stood in for six years.

  20. Had a Ford Aerostar with the 2.8L Mustang engine.

    Go to an autoparts store for X part, parts monkey doesn't believe me. "No, it's a 3.0L…"

    No, no it's not.

    On and on and on…

    Finally tell parts-monkey to follow me out and look at the big damned label on the top of the grill that says… 2.8L V6 on the official Ford sticker that tells you what size engine and how to thread the serpentine yada yada.

    Still the parts-monkey didn't believe me, so I started taking parts off right there in front of the front door. Here, match this. No, not that, this. Try looking it up as a Ford Mustang XXXX year with the 2.8L engine.

    "Oh, no, can't do that."

    He finally let me look in his book, found the 2.8L Ford Aerostar page, found the part, went into the stack and got the part, unboxed it, compared it to the soon-to-be-dead part.

    And this while coming off of a 4 year stint as a good parts-monkey at a boat dealer, where it was not uncommon for me to have to go out into the parking lot and look at what monstrosity the customer was searching for parts to, or take a current unattached part and figure out how badly the customer got the year, make, model wrong.

    That Ford Aerostar? Musta been a 5 cylinder for all I could figure out. You had to lift the engine and transmission off their mounts and drop the whole getup to find the hidden 6th cylinder. A feat way past my modest wrenching abilities, and way past the abilities of most mechanics. I had to force the shops to prove they replaced all 6, and caught one shop faking it.

    Then there was the 1991 Chrysler Imperial that you had to unbolt the transverse mounted engine from the transmission in order to lift it in order to replace one cylinder bank's water jacket gasket or the spark plugs or the plug wires or, well, anything on that side of the engine.

    I have exhibited the ability to swear in a way that would make longshoremen blanche in horror in dealing with that POS Imperial…

  21. Go to the hardware store the local ranchers and farmers use. Them fellows don't buy anything unnecessary. Hence, all the generic little parts and pieces for just about anything that might break.

  22. When dealers hire employees for parts departments who can't put mustard and onions on a hot dog, or screw in a light bulb without a manual, you get what you get.

    Write the dealer a nice letter letting him know his people are morons and explaining why in detail, CC it to corporate management, and then shop elsewhere. Forever. Because 80:20 the manager and corporate can't read above 4th grade level anyhow.

    Then go get some marine-grade hardware close (imperial) or exactly (metric) as specified, and do it yourself.

    Dealer parts are sourced and specified to maximize dealer repair hours and profit margins, not reliability, ease of maintenance, or availability of standard replacements. Anytime you can safely swap out their crap for better quality and easier replacement, do it.

    Ford made cars simple. Every effort since the late 1960s has been to make them as unnecessarily complicated and rapidly obsolescent as possible, in every detail, because a car that doesn't break, won't be replaced.

    This is why Cuba could drive Chevys since the 1950s, even making replacement parts from scrap, but modern cars will last until their warranty expires, and/or your note is paid, and not much longer.

    In my youth, I had a Ford Escort once. Never having previously heard of a timing belt, the grime-covered plate in the engine compartment specified that it be replaced at 60,000 miles. At exactly 60,002 miles (yes, really) I found out about this as the belt parted company with the engine. Only the fact that I was shifting gears at that exact second prevented throwing every part in the engine and depositing parts along the highway, and it was only a grand or so to repair, instead of an engine replacement. A couple of years later, when I rolled that car and killed it off completely, it was the happiest day of my life.

    I replaced it with an old Jeep I drove for 200K miles, until someone rammed it to death. I currently have an econo-Nissan, which I will drive until it dies, and after that, any future vehicles will be mil-surp sales only.

    Anything I can't do in retirement in a scratch-built repro WWII jeep, or a military 5T diesel, doesn't need doing.

  23. "Right to Repair" keeps getting to be a bigger and bigger issue. My son had a 2018 macbook air. Screen suddenly went black on him during an online exam. Laptop was completely unresponsive from that point.

    Took it to Apple Authorized Service center on campus. They told him it had water damage and needed at least 3 major components – logic board, trackpad and keyboard that would cost over $1,000 to repair – or they'd sell him a brand new one for less…

    I didn't believe the water damage story. Sounded more like a software than hardware failure to me. Found a good, independent mail-in repair shop – the kind where they can replace a failed capacitor on an ic board – and sent it in. Turned out the problem was firmware. For a few years apple had a special "T2" security chip that controls all the hardware. T2 firmware had somehow gotten corrupted (which the repair place told me happens quite a bit). After re-flashing the T2 chip the laptop is good as new…

    The skilled, independent, repair shop was TCRS Circuit in Palmdale, CA. The Apple certified parts monkeys were at 12th Man Tech in College Station, TX.

    It was an eye-opening experience. Both the incompetence and dishonesty of the Apple world and the competence and honesty of the independent…

  24. I had '95 Buick LeSabre some years ago. The plastic rod in the driver side door wore out, but you had to buy the whole damn kit for $350 which include the slider and the electric motor. I would guess some of these parts issues are driven by the manufacturers to save weight, but then some of the car becomes landfill over time.

  25. Let me tell you a tale of two tractors… both belong to my father, and this happened spring of 2019.

    The first is a 1980s White model 2-85. Its my dads big 4wd tractor, really only gets used twice a year, spring for plowing, fall for harvest. We were checking it out in the spring and found the radiator was low and there was coolant in the oil. Expecting to find a blown head gasket, we tow it into the shop and start tearing it down. Found the culprit, cracked block between cylinders 2 and 3.

    Monday morning, phone call to the local independent shop has the head man burning up the phone lines. By the following week he had located a used but inspected block. Took another week to get it shipped. I made it a long weekend and by the next Monday, two weeks after that call, we fired it up, good thing, because by then spring was here and the plow was calling.

    The other is a 2014 New Holland T5060. One morning, it would not start. Being 5 years old, it was just out of its warranty period. But the local dealer said for three grand they could send a truck to pick it up and take it back to their shop so their computer could tell them what was wrong. Mind you, this was just to diagnose it, that was nothing for the repair…

    Since it was new and had been under warranty, I had never worked on said tractor. Well… time to change that. Called the indie shop again, explained what it was doing, he surmised the computer was not getting the signal from the clutch pedal switch… and he couldnt order them, dealer only part, but heres the part number.

    Dad orders the switch, $70 part, but the dealership took their sweet time getting it. "Oh, there are none available in the US, we had to order it from the factory in Italy, yadda yadda…" Two weeks later, dad hands me the switch, I put it in, and the dumb thing starts right up.

    Point about that switch… its actually two switches, one open, one closed. The computer needs to see a status change on BOTH to be sure the clutch pedal has been pressed. And to make sure you cant just jumper it with a wire, the open side is actually running through a resistor, so it's more of a hi-low switch. And the only function of that switch it to say the pedal has been pushed to allow it to start.

    Remember that 1980s White… or has a clutch safety switch too. It's just a simple mechanical on-off switch… almost 40 years old and it still works just fine.

    They dont make 'em like they used to.

  26. Last year, I had to replace the serpentine on my car.
    Finding one was easy.
    Installing it was not.
    I couldn't figure out how to access it, so I looked online. You basically had to take off the entire front end to do so. And of course, there were any number of specialized tools required.
    Time being a bit more dear than money at that point, I followed my wife's advice, broke down, and had a mechanic do it. It only took him about three hours, but it would have taken me a couple of days.

  27. Peter,
    be cautious about buying general hardware in the big box stores. Lots of it will be grade 2, and you don't want to be using it for things under any real stress.

    Also, there are some SAE nuts and bolts that have a near match in metric. Do not rely on that combo to handle real stress. Thread engagement is not good enough. You can feel the difference when you wiggle the nut, there will be a noticeable wobble that is a clue that it's not correct.

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