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Parts Department Nomenclature

Most if not everyone’s vehicle or accessory transactions are affected by the availability (or unavailability) of  parts.  Following are explanations of most of the commonly used terms. This will help you to understand (but not necessarily enjoy) the situation that is causing a delay in the servicing of your vehicle (car or bike), or filling of a special order of parts and/or accessories.

One of the things a person needs to bear in mind when there is a delay explained by the following terms, getting upset at the parts or service representative will not speed the process up.  All it may do is antagonize the representative, jeopardizing that relationship.

A brief explanation of distribution

An overview of the parts distribution system used by most of the major manufacturers works the following way.  There are generally tiers in these systems:

1: The first tier is that of the manufacturer itself.  This can be Honda, Harley, Joe Rocket, or any other number of entities directly responsible for the final assembly and distribution to a network of a product itself.

2: Most of these first-tier manufacturers rely on subcontract suppliers to sell them the components needed to do the final assemblies.  Unlike Ford Motor Company in the 1920’s and 30’s even the biggest manufacturers rarely own all the means of production.  While Ford owned their own steel plants and glass works, modern manufacturers rely on others to supply a majority of the components used in their products.  Honda, Harley and many other motorcycle producers use Stanley (not the tool guys) lighting equipment, Keihin and Mikuni carbs and fuel injection and some lesser known suppliers such as NPR and ART for internal engine components.

Now in a perfect world, these subcontract suppliers are always ready with adequate supplies of product for the producers using a “just in time” method of supply. Now when was the last time everything always went as planned when the deadline for completion had an allowable variation in the production cycle of less than 2%?  Just try oversleeping or getting out of your daily routine by less than 15 minutes and see what havoc is wrought. It is generally the breakdown at this level that causes the supply problems downstream that is felt by you and me.

The producers have a warehouse distribution network that acts as shipping hubs to minimize delays in transit to the next tier in the process.  For a company like Honda there are warehouses in cities such as Moline IL, Atlanta GA, and Gardena CA, among others.

Harley has one distribution point, and that is in Milwaukee.  One of the interesting recent developments in their shipping theory was intended to satisfy the dealers on the east and west coasts.  These dealers complained that the dealers in the middle of the country got parts faster than they did.  Harley decided to solve the problem not by speeding up the shipping process, but by holding the Midwest dealers’ orders on the dock for three days before shipping.

3: The final tier is the retail outlet, whatever its configuration.  This is where you finally order the part and theoretically receive it.



A.)Temporary Backorder….. indicates that the part is available in this country and has to come from a more distant hub warehouse or subcontract supplier.  This generally adds 1 to 2 weeks to the delivery time.

B.)National Backorder …..(no one wants to hear that) indicates the part is not available in this country and will need to come from the supplier’s home country distribution network.

Depending on shipping methods used (2-5 days by air, 2-3 weeks by ship) and possible delays in customs that have been made longer by the tightening of security and lack of personnel to implement that tightening, this type of Backorder delay can run from as little as a week to months.  The key to trying to determine the anticipated delay is to always ask for a Backorder Release Date.  This is the date the supplier anticipates the part to be in their US distribution system and under their control.  If an unusual delay due to a subcontract supply problem exists or an accountant determined the part shouldn’t be carried anymore there may not be a Backorder Release Date available.  This is usually good for a three aspirin headache because nobody will be having any fun now.  In the case of many motorcycles over 15 years old this is occurring with increasing frequency.

Due to the specialized nature of many parts fitments, this is spelling doom for more and more units. This then necessitates the search for used parts of occasionally cloudy heritage.

C.) Cross-Shipped…..  This is a delay caused by the nearest hub warehouse not having the part and its being shipped from another warehouse in the system.  It is similar to a temporary backorder except the part actually exists and a finite shipping time can be determined.

D.) No Longer Available…..  This is similar to the National Backorder except there is no hope as all sources of supply of new parts are exhausted.

E.) Superceded ….. This indicates the original configuration part has been replaced by a newer version.  This replacement is generally the result of an improvement or change of the original design and/or a subcontract supplier change.  Generally with the new part number comes a new price…rarely lower than before.


This is a very brief look into the process of procuring parts and accessories for the servicing of your vehicle or special order accessories.  As you can see, there are a number of steps involved in getting the parts needed no matter whether it is a dealer or an independent such as ourselves.  In our case, we regularly deal with over 55 different suppliers, necessitating the learning of quite a number of different systems.  Not all of these systems work well in effectiveness or timing.  This is why there can be delays, sometimes substantial, in the parts system.  Please remember, once the part is ordered by us it is then in the hands of the producers and/or suppliers and subject to the processes of the system, which sometimes requires a bit of patience.


© Bill Whisenant 2007
updated 11/26/2012


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