If you take your car to the dealer when it's time for a repair, you'll almost always receive parts made by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). However, if you go to an independent car repair shop, you may have the choice of getting aftermarket components. Deciding whether these parts are as good as those from the original manufacturer comes down to doing your homework.
Aftermarket Car Parts Compared to OEM Components
According to the United States Department of Commerce, the sales of aftermarket car parts are on the rise, while the sales of OEM parts are holding steady and, in some cases, even declining. The lower cost of aftermarket parts is a factor driving this trend, but an equally important consideration is the quality of these components.
The results of a focus group of almost 60 auto repair professionals assembled by the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association show that the quality of aftermarket parts is improving. However, it pays to research the specific manufacturer before you buy.
Quality of Aftermarket Parts Has Improved
A decade ago, aftermarket auto parts did not have the reputation that they do today, but an industry-wide focus on quality has begun to change the standing of these components. The focus group felt that quality of aftermarket car parts has increased in the past five to ten years. Shop owners and repair technicians are confident in many aftermarket brands and have little concern about putting these parts on their customers' vehicles.
According to Edmunds, today's aftermarket parts can be as good, or even better, than their OEM counterparts. Because aftermarket companies are trying to compete with one another and don't need to devote their time to creating a new design, they can re-engineer the OEM part to eliminate weaknesses or flaws.
OEM Parts Are Also Associated With Quality
About a third of the focus group participants consistently choose OEM parts over aftermarket parts, citing the reliable quality and the ability to charge more for the component. Because these parts carry the manufacturer's name, and often include a lengthy warranty period, some repair professionals offer only these items to consumers.
Brand Is Important
All participants in the focus group agreed that the brand of aftermarket parts is extremely important. Generic parts, or those without a brand name, were very unpopular with auto repair professionals, who felt that the quality was unpredictable. Branded aftermarket parts, on the other hand, offer consistent performance.
According to the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association Top 100, certain companies offer brands that are synonymous with quality. Consider some of the following:
- Bridgestone Corporation - This company sells tires under the brands Bridgestone and Firestone.
- Federal Mogul - This company produces a range of products under several brand names including Carter fuel pumps, Ferodo brake pads, Wagner brake products, and ANCO wipers.
- The Michelin Group - Known for tires, the Michelin Group produces brands like Uniroyal, Michelin, and BF Goodrich.
- Honeywell - Honeywell makes spark plugs, filters, brake products, and more under names like Garett, Prestone, Holts, and FRAM.
- Goodyear - Another tire manufacturer, this company produces Dunlop, Kelly, and Goodyear tires.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Aftermarket Parts
There are many pros and cons to choosing aftermarket parts over original manufacturer components. Before you make your decision, take some time to think about how much these factors matter to you.
- Cost - Aftermarket parts are almost always cheaper than OEM parts. According to a report by the Property Casualty Insurers of America, OEM parts can cost about 60% more than aftermarket brands.
- Improved quality - Established and respected brands offer quality aftermarket parts. In some cases, these parts may actually exceed the quality of those made by the OEM.
- Selection and availability - While OEM parts come in only a few configurations, there are many more options for aftermarket parts. Additionally, these parts are available at almost any auto repair facility, while OEM parts are usually only offered by the dealer.
- Warranty - Not all aftermarket companies back their products with warranties. You'll have to research the specific part and company to know for sure if your purchase will be covered.
- Inconsistent quality - Although many companies offer great quality products, some parts are still less reliable than OEM alternatives. Understanding the brand's reputation can help.
- Overwhelming shopping - Because there are so many manufacturers and parts on the market, choosing the best one for your vehicle can be overwhelming.
Making the Right Choice
If you're deciding between aftermarket auto parts or OEM components for your car, the right choice depends on a number of factors. Consider the following before you make your decision.
Type of Repair
The best option will partially depend on the type of repair you need to make to your vehicle. According to Edmunds, you should never use aftermarket parts to repair collision damage. Although body panels and other replacement components may be cheaper from an aftermarket source, they may not fit your car perfectly. Parts made by the original manufacturer will produce a better fit and more attractive repair.
If you're familiar with auto parts brands, your knowledge of the reliability of the various manufacturers can help you choose whether to go with aftermarket parts or OEM parts. However, many consumers don't have this type of experience and knowledge. If you fall into this camp, you'll need to do your homework on the specific part and brand before you decide what's best for you.
Although quality is most important to many buyers, those on a tight budget may prioritize price for some components. If price is a major part of your decision, the best part for you may be the one that's most affordable.
Do Your Homework
Whether you decide to purchase parts made by the original manufacturer of your vehicle or you choose aftermarket components instead, doing your homework can help you feel confident in your decision. As with all automotive purchases, take the time to research the choices and make sure you trust the auto repair facility you are using.