Scribblings from the hard shoulder of the Information Superhighway

MicroMart – Zen

The Internet and the art of car maintenance.

Published Micromart January 16th 2003

Some older readers of Micro Mart may recall the speech made in September 1999 by Andy Grove of Intel, where he declared that “in some years time, there will be no such thing as Internet companies because all companies that will be operating will be using the Internet in their business and in their internal operations”

That, of course was the height of the dot com boom and most readers nodded sagely, the future was wired and the share prices of a hundred dot com companies reflected that optimism. Then, of course, came the dot com crash, and Andy Grove’s words were consigned to the bin marked “well he would say that wouldn’t he?”.

Fast forward to 2002, the dust has settled on the wreckage of the failed dot coms and is clear that some of Andy’s prediction is coming true. As Micro Mart readers well know, the best prices are now often to be found online, be it for hardware, books, records or air tickets. But ‘all companies’? Even I thought that was a bit optimistic, but last month I discovered just how pervasive the Internet has become, and how it is changing working practices in some of the most unlikely places.

I was looking for some new tail lights for my car, having discovered (thanks to an online forum) that later models of my car had been revised to include better reversing lights. I wanted the improved lights, but didn’t really want to pay the full price. I also recognised that my car (a Toyota RAV4) was sufficiently obscure that I would be unlikely to find one in my local breakers yard. A few searches for used car parts in Google and I stumbled across a site where you can key in your contact details and descriptions of the parts you’re seeking, and it is alleged that scrap yards around the country check the site to see if they have the parts you want. Okay, I thought, nothing ventured, so I duly keyed in “Wanted – 1998 Toyota RAV4 Tail Light Clusters” pressed ‘enter’ and went about my business.

Within half an hour I was astonished to receive a call from a scrapyard who had a suitable ‘donor’ vehicle. They had my contact details, including email address and half an hour later they emailed me a set of digital photos of said vehicle, with major front end damage, but immaculate tail lights. I called the scrapyard, gave them my credit card details, and my new lights were on their way to me.

That, to my mind, was a major result in itself. What further demonstrated the power of the Internet to me, was that the scrapyard in question was in Aberdeen – some 500 miles north of my home in Essex. So while I get the parts I want, without getting muddy feet, the scrapyard has a customer base far greater than its local population, and because they do the stripping of the parts they don’t have a problem with pilfering.

Everybody wins. Now if somebody were to start providing a similar service for old PC bits….