If you’ve never heard of RockAuto.com, chances are you’ve been living under a, um, stone. Even people who aren’t car people have heard of the website. If for some reason you fall into that other camp, we’re here to educate you. Rock Auto is the best place to find replacement parts for your vehicle anywhere on the internet. We’ve used them in pretty much all of our builds, because almost any part you can think of that needs replacing—they’ve got it.
We sat down with Tom Taylor, the vice president of marketing and one of the founders of RockAuto.com, to get the full story.
Diesel Tech: Can you give a brief history of the website? How did it get its start? What did it grow out of?
Tom Taylor: RockAuto.com is a family business founded by automotive engineers in 1999. (I began my career at Chrysler. My brother, sister-in-law and dad started out at GM.) We drove (and still drive) old cars. We had a lot of experience on the customer’s side of the parts store counter.
We wanted direct access to all the parts information hidden in the computers and catalogs behind the parts store counter, and we wanted to pay fair prices. We correctly assumed that other auto parts consumers wanted that too, and RockAuto.com was born.
Our timing was good. The big auto parts chains had put many independent parts stores out of business. Many part manufacturers and wholesalers needed new retailers and welcomed RockAuto.com.
DT: How do you stay competitive as an online-only retailer?
TT: It used to be a lot easier for the chain part stores to stock parts for most cars. The rear shocks on my '71 Ford LTD fit everything from a '49 Chevy Fleetline to a '92 Toyota Corolla. Those days are gone, and a storefront can't possibly stock parts for all makes and models. Instead of asking a counterperson to find parts on his/her computer, look up the parts yourself at RockAuto.com and choose from a bigger selection while
paying much lower prices.
RockAuto.com reaches customers all over the world. An older model might now be rare in the northern USA, but many of them are still on the road and needing parts in other parts of the country and/or world.
DT: What sets Rock Auto apart from other e-commerce websites?
TT: At RockAuto.com, we only sell parts. Everything from our unique easy-to-use catalog to our core returns and warranty claims processes are designed specifically to make things straightforward for auto parts customers. Our prices are always reliably low. Our parts come from respected manufacturers and their approved wholesalers, not from unknown “marketplace” type sources.
DT: What advantages does Rock Auto offer over alternatives such as O’Reilly’s or Auto Zone?
TT: At a chain parts store, you walk up to a counterperson and trust them to look up the correct part on their computer and then often wait while it is brought in from a warehouse. You pay much higher prices, and you often have no choice of brands or features. At RockAuto.com, you bypass the counterperson and choose the part brands, prices and features you want anytime, 24/7. RockAuto.com even has many of the parts the chain store counterperson will tell you are "dealer-only" or no longer available. The
parts are delivered directly to your home or office.
DT: Why do you focus on OEM parts, rather than aftermarket parts?
TT: We focus on replacement parts from respected manufacturers because their parts are built to precisely fit specific vehicles. Early on, we found some accessory/performance part manufacturers made misleading claims such as their parts would fit “every Chevy 350” or “every Jeep Wrangler.” We do carry truck accessories and performance-upgrades, but they are carefully vetted to ensure customers can choose the correct part based on make/year/model/engine just like they would an OEM-spec replacement part.
DT: What’s your opinion of the diesel industry?
TT: Vehicle manufacturers need the fuel efficiency and torque of compression ignition engines. The differences between gasoline and diesel engines are gradually blurring. With changes such as direct injection and higher compression, many gasoline engines are starting to look a lot like diesels that haven't quite kicked the sparkplug habit.
DT: About what percentage of your sales are for diesel trucks?
TT: Our parts sales for specific vehicles track how many of those vehicles were originally sold. For example, if ~30 percent of a manufacturer's vehicles were diesels, then ~30 percent of our part sales are for diesels. That seems obvious as I say it now, but it wasn't obvious when we started out. We originally thought most customers would need hard-to-find parts for rarer vehicles. We do sell a lot of parts for old vehicles and classics, but we sell more parts for ten-year-old F-250s and Camrys.
DT: What’s a feature of the website we might not know about? Or perhaps something Rock Auto offers that people don’t necessarily expect?
TT: RockAuto.com customers have the option of creating an account where they can see all the parts they have purchased for specific vehicles. I can't count the number of times I have thought, "I am sure I recently replaced that..." and then I log into my account and discover I purchased the part over a decade ago. You can see exactly when you bought parts and what brands and part numbers you chose. You can also use your account to make the RockAuto.com catalog only display parts for the specific vehicles you
We want to thank Tom for giving us his time and answering our questions. The next time you need parts for your build, make sure to hit up RockAuto.com to get the right parts for the best price.