When you take your car to the dealership's service department for repairs, you know you're getting Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) car parts. However, if you take your car to an independent shop, you'll most likely get aftermarket car parts. Is there anything wrong with that? Does a less expensive part mean a poorer-quality part? And in what situations should you use only OEM parts?
To answer these questions, we've created a list of pros and cons to help you make a more informed decision when choosing what parts go into your car. In this way, you can strike a balance between cost and quality.
An aftermarket part is any part for a vehicle that is not sourced from the car's maker. If the parts are direct replacement parts, they will not void your car's warranty. A number of companies make parts designed to function the same, or in some cases even better than the original. Tom Torbjornsen, host of America's Car Show, estimates that about 80 percent of independent shops use aftermarket parts. "Be an informed consumer," said Torbjornsen."Shop around, make sure you're dealing with a good mechanic and request high-quality aftermarket parts."
- Less expensive: Aftermarket parts are usually less expensive than OEM parts; how much you save varies by brand. Shop around to find the best price and to get an idea of how much that part usually costs. If the price of a part seems too good to be true, ask questions about its quality.
- Quality can be equal to or greater than OEM: In some cases, you may end up with a better part than you started with. "The aftermarket companies reverse-engineer the part, and work the weaknesses out," said Torbjornsen. For example, when an automaker designs its brake pads, it has to strike a balance between cost, durability, noise levels and performance. If you want better performance and don't mind some extra brake noise (some brake pads squeak even though they are stopping the car effectively), an aftermarket pad may be your best choice.
- More variety: There are hundreds of companies that make aftermarket parts. Some specialize in specific parts, and other companies, like NAPA, make almost any part you can think of. More variety means greater selection and a wider range of prices.
- Better availability: You can walk into any gas station, auto parts store or local mechanic, and they're bound to have a part that fits your car. This gives you more options on where to take your car for service.
- Quality varies greatly: The saying "you get what you pay for" rings true here. Some aftermarket parts are inferior because of the use of lower-quality materials. Stick with aftermarket brands you're familiar with or are recommended by a mechanic you trust, even if these parts cost a bit more.
- Overwhelming selection: If you're not familiar with aftermarket brands, the selection could be overwhelming, and there's some chance you may get a bad quality part. Even a part as simple as a spark plug can be made by dozens of different companies and comes in numerous variations. Consult your mechanic for advice or simply stick with the OEM part when the price difference isn't significant.
- May not have a warranty: To keep costs down, some aftermarket parts are sold without a warranty.
OEM parts are made by the vehicle's manufacturer. These match the parts that came with your vehicle when it rolled off the assembly line.
- Easier to choose your part: If you go to the parts counter at a dealership and ask for any part, you'll usually get one type. You don't have to worry about assessing the quality of different brands and prices.
- Greater assurance of quality: The OEM part should work exactly as the one you are replacing. It is what the vehicle was manufactured with and provides a peace of mind in its familiarity and performance.
- Comes with a warranty: Most automakers back up their OEM parts with a one-year warranty. And if you get your car repaired at the dealer, they'll usually stand by their labor as well.
- More expensive: OEM parts will usually cost more than an aftermarket part. When it comes to bodywork, OEM parts tend to cost about 60 percent more, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). There is more of a burden on parts and service to increase a dealership's profit, since the sales departments have been underperforming. But the gap in pricing might be closing, says Torbjornsen. "We've seen a balance in the scales; dealers are now trying to compete with independent shops."
- Need to be bought at the dealership: Even though there are other ways of buying OEM parts (eBay, online wholesalers), most people will go to a dealership to buy their car parts. This limits the number of places you can buy from. You can request OEM parts from your local mechanic, but it may take longer to get your vehicle repaired since the parts must be ordered.
- Quality may not be superior: You paid the extra money for an OEM part, hoping that it was vastly better than an aftermarket part. But that may not always be the case. As Torbjornsen mentioned earlier, some aftermarket parts are equal to or in some cases better than OEM parts. So you might be paying extra just for the name.
When Should You Request OEM Parts?
When it comes to collision repairs, make sure you are getting OEM parts, since aftermarket body panels may not fit properly or have proper crumple zones for crash safety.
If you lease your car, there are also economic considerations. Since aftermarket parts decrease a vehicle's book value, using them to repair your vehicle's body may cost you part or all of your security deposit.
But here's the rub: In 21 states and the District of Columbia, a body shop's repair estimate does not have to indicate whether aftermarket parts will be used. You'll often find that your insurance company will favor aftermarket parts because they are cheaper. If you request OEM parts, some insurance companies ask you to pay an additional fee. Check with your insurance provider beforehand, to see what parts they will cover.
Which Is the Best Way To Go?
All aftermarket parts are not created equal — but all OEM parts are. This creates its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you're familiar with a number of brands or work on your own car, aftermarket parts can save you a lot of money. If you're not familiar with aftermarket brands, prefer to have everything done at the dealership and don't mind paying a bit extra for that peace of mind, OEM is a good choice for you.