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A parts book is a catalog of available parts and components for equipment issued by a manufacturer or a firm that supplies parts from a variety of manufacturers to wholesalers and retailers. This reference book is necessary to order the right part. Typically updates are regularly issued to keep pace with new information about parts and accessories. The parts book will have a title page to indicate when it was published so readers can determine if it is the most recent edition.
Historically, manufacturers sent out a literal book, a bound collection of part numbers and types with an index to help personnel look up what they needed. Manufacturers also sometimes sent out these references on microfiche. Most today use electronic parts books issued on storage media like CDs or accessed remotely through an online database. One advantage of online parts books is that they are easy to update and anyone consulting the parts book can work in confidence that it has the latest information.
People can use a parts book in a number of ways. One option is to take the serial number or vehicle identification number of a piece of equipment and plug it in to get a complete listing of parts. The user can narrow down the list to find the part he wants, like a left headlight assembly or a specific belt. It is also possible to use the index to get a listing of all parts of a certain type, and to check compatibility from there. The technician might look for fan belts, for example, and then check to see which ones can be used in a piece of equipment from a specific manufacturer and year.
The parts book provides the order number so the technician can order the right part. Some may link with an inventory system to allow the technician to determine if the part is in stock. If it is not, she can find the closest warehouse and order it from there to make sure it will arrive in a timely fashion. The parts book may also provide information about installation of the part, as many parts do not come with directions and sometimes the assembly can be confusing.
Some manufacturers treat their parts books as proprietary and will only release them to authorized dealers of their equipment and its corresponding parts. Others make them freely available and allow consumers to bypass a retailer and order from them directly. In the event the book is not available to the public, usually a look-up is free and the consumer does not have an obligation to buy the part.