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Kate on Cars March 2013 - Parts Smarts (Original Equipment vs Aftermarket)

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Kate on Cars March 2013
Parts Smarts (Original Equipment vs Aftermarket)

by Kate Jonasse

When it comes to your car, not all parts are equal. Parts (aka components – the pieces of your car) may look pretty much the same to the untrained eye, but actually be very different in their quality and operation.

Car parts come in two basic categories: original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aftermarket. Here’s how this works. Car manufacturers (all of them, like Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Chevrolet, etc.) sometimes make their own parts and sometimes have specialist companies make parts for them because it keeps costs down – if a company found out how to make a great light bulb, a car manufacturer will just buy the bulb from them rather than make their own from scratch. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

OEM parts may or may not have the car manufacturers’ logo stamped on them depending on several factors. If you go pull a part out of a brand new car like a Mercedes-Benz, it will probably have the car manufacturers logo stamped on it, in this case the Mercedes star. If you buy a replacement OEM part, it will still be the same part (or an upgraded version thereof) but probably not have the star on it. OEM parts are generally high quality parts.

Aftermarket parts vary so much in how they are made and how they operate. Once a car manufacturer makes a car, aftermarket companies try to duplicate the parts that are on it in order to recreate them and sell them as a lower-cost alternative to OEM parts. Because the quality varies so much, it’s not a good idea to buy an aftermarket part that you haven’t researched.

Stores like Napa Auto Parts sell mostly aftermarket parts – they have some OEM parts but you really have to dig to find out which ones they are. It’s not always clear by the packaging. And most of what is found online is aftermarket. Just because a site (or eBay) says a part is OE or OEM does not mean that it really is.

In my shop, we use primarily OEM parts – mainly because I like to fix cars correctly and only do the job once. I also like to offer a great warranty on our work and give my customers confidence. If we ever use an aftermarket part, it has been extensively researched. Not just the company – but the actual product itself is researched.

Sometimes an aftermarket part for a certain type or model of car is a good product, but that same part designed for a different car has a high failure rate. And sometimes a well-known high quality manufacturer like Bosch makes a bad product, like a starter with a 25% failure rate in a certain car with a certain engine. When choosing parts to install on our customers cars, we do a good amount of research to make sure that the parts we are installing are the best deal for the customer.

And remember – parts found online have an extremely limited warranty, if any. They can also be a faulty product that someone bought cheap, or pulled out of a dumpster for all one knows. In the long run, it is always best to use a repair shop that buys the highest quality parts that are guaranteed, for your and your family’s automotive driving safety.