OEM vs Aftermarket: Are Auto Parts Created Equal?

Being in the aftermarket auto parts bizzz, I often find myself verbally battling with guys that are hardcore OEM auto parts only.  They usually say “I only buy OEM auto parts because “aftermarket stuff” never fits, works, lasts, etc.”  They usually have an example of a part that they bought from a local auto part store that didn’t work out for them for whatever reason.  Fair enough, we’ve all been there.  Now, I have absolutely no problem with OEM parts by any means.  In fact, before working for 1A Auto, I was a technician at a Cadillac dealer using all OEM parts.  Needless to say, I’m quite familiar with a wide range of auto parts.  Do bad OEM parts exist?  Absolutely! (Just ask anybody that has owned a Cadillac Catera (Sorry, I had to…))  Do bad aftermarket auto parts exist?  Absolutely.  However, not all auto parts are created equal. So let’s talk about it.

We’ll start our examples with a company that does really exist and everybody knows of them because they make absolutely fantastic suspension products.  I’m leaving the name out because the auto parts that they build are more relevant than their name.  For now, let’s call them “Company X”.   Now, the way I understand it, about 50% of the suspension parts that Company X produces are OEM parts for brand new cars.   Naturally, they also produce extra’s for the car dealer’s to stock in their parts departments.  It would be in an OEM brand name box, but it is actually built by Company X.  When the OEM’s need a part produced, Company X  is given specs by the vehicle manufactures and as you may guess, they build these auto parts to the exact specifications that they are given.  The OEM engineers really only need these parts to last as long as the car’s suspension warranty, without compromising safety or their own brand name in the process.  All the parts function as they are designed to, but long term, some parts are better than others.

The other 50% of the auto parts that Company X produces are what I call “high quality aftermarket auto parts”. They are Company X’s aftermarket brand, built to their own specs, which are vastly improved over the OEM parts (if they need to be).  They find the faults of the original designs and they correct them for their aftermarket brand because Company X wants them to last forever.  Everything is greaseable (as suspension parts should be), and engineered to be better than the OEM’s originally wanted. It may be a visible change in the look, or it may look identical and be internally changed. In some cases the OEM part doesn’t need to be improved upon, and the high quality aftermarket part brand is the same exact part as OEM but without the part numbers marked on them.

On the other hand, there are the cheaper options available out there which I call “low quality aftermarket auto parts”. These are typically the ones that can give “aftermarket parts” as a whole a bad name.  The reason that they are the cheapest price is because they are the cheapest to produce.  Being the cheapest to produce rarely equals the highest quality.  The unfortunate truth to these parts is that you don’t really know if this is the part that you are buying until you attempt to attach it to your car. Before long, you need torches and welders to make it fit, and you need a new one in a few weeks.

Now you can’t talk about OEM vs Aftermarket auto parts without talking about price.  Here’s the way it works.  Since the average consumer can only buy OEM parts through car dealers,  the dealers can charge a premium.  There is typically minimal price differences between dealers because their doesn’t need to be.  They control the flow of OEM parts.  Aftermarket parts are different because you can have multiple manufacturers of similar products.  You can count on all of them being priced less than an OEM part from a dealer, but the quality can vary greatly.  High quality aftermarket parts are priced far less than the dealer, but sold from a variety of different outlets which means competition and a super high quality part at a competitive price.  Then there are the cheap (and I do mean cheap) low quality aftermarket parts.  They will be priced the lowest, and may or may not be what you want when you open the box. “EEEK! What is that!?”

So although my opinion may appear to biased because of my position, I’ll give it to you anyway.  I prefer the high quality aftermarket parts over OEM because I know what goes into them, and the price is right of course.  Want more? Ok, fine. Recently I installed some new ignition coils in my wife’s RX8 as a general maintenance procedure.  I took a few pictures for OEM vs aftermarket comparisons.  The new ones were perfect in  every way, and the RX8 is happier than ever.  (OEM’s are on the left side of the picture, and the 1A Auto coils are on the right.)

15 comments to OEM vs Aftermarket: Are Auto Parts Created Equal?

  • JohnEd

    I think it was Consumer Reports that did a test years ago on sheet metal, and the aftermarket piece way out lasted the gm oem door skin in an environmental exposure test.

  • I agree with you and also prefer high performance aftermarket parts instead of OEM Parts.

  • ruthlee

    Which are the BEST aftermarket companies or product names? I can’t find say….brake pads tested, these are the highest rated brands. I have a Volvo, and anytime I deal with the dealership it is a nightmare. Once, I had to wait 40 days for a part to come from Sweden. The car broke down on day 42 and I had to be pushed into a graveyard to wait for a tow truck… What are names I can trust, Please? Thanks

    • Hi Ruthlee,

      Waiting in a graveyard for anything is never a good sign! It’s as if the car was trying to tell you that its time was up! :)

      As for your brand question: There are so many parts out there that it really depends on which part that you looking for. With fear of sounding like a sales pitch, finding the best parts for our customers is what we do really well here at 1A Auto (I know, very sales pitchy, but bare with me, it will come full circle.) See, unlike many businesses that sell auto parts, we are real car enthusiasts here. We work on our own cars, and we make our own how-to videos, so we know a high quality part from a cheaper low quality one. (I literally had a VW engine out and apart in 1 million pieces 3 days ago, my hands are still dirty! :) ) So what I’m getting at is that we do all of this painful detective work for you. We separate the good parts from the bad, and then we don’t carry the bad ones because well……they’re bad.

      Many people out there love OEM parts because they know that it will be just like the part that they are taking off their car. The downfall / devil’s advocate is: The OEM part has already failed you once, so does buying OEM again really make sense? Answer: Yes and no (of course!). It really depends on a million factors – What part is it? Is it a part intended to wear out? Is OEM the only option available? Etc. Sometimes OEM is the right choice, but certainly not always.

      So listing good brands vs. bad brands is really tough for the aftermarket auto parts industry as a whole. I can tell you that businesses that care about their customers and the product that they are selling will likely carry the parts that are known to work. My advice on buying the absolute best auto parts is first off, figure out which part you need (that’s the tough part!). Then research where to buy it. There may be several businesses that have the part, but not all of them put their own faces on the front page of their website, make how-to videos to show you how to install it, and have ASE certified customer service people to help you out anytime you need it.

      Sorry, was that too sales pitchy? :) Honestly, if you have any questions about any specific parts or brands, everyone here will happily answer every question you have. Naming all the good brands would be quite a challenge though!

  • Good read. I have bought your parts and so far none have had to be replaced.

    Tom

  • Joan

    Hey Jeremy,
    Do you think that the CAPA certification process will resolve this issue or highlight exactly which aftermarket parts suppliers give the industry a bad name? Is this a good solution, in your opinion?

    Thanks!

  • huggy bear

    if I make a car of after market parts what will it b a clone

  • [...] like I had seen in the past, even though it is considered an “aftermarket” part, it may actually be OEM. Now, [...]

  • Josh

    Here is my question: How does a manufacturer (aftermarket) get the specs to make the part?

    in this case I am talking about a company that is not mass producing “OEM” parts as well as supplying to aftermarket.

    • Hi Josh,
      I’m under the impression that they reverse engineer it somehow, though I don’t really know the details of how it works. I imagine lots of measuring or scanning with some awesome machines, though maybe that’s just in the movies…

  • Guitartec

    I want to be positive here, but this article didn’t really tell me anything helpful. I still don’t know what aftermarket parts are good, just that “some” are.

    The reason I stumbled upon this artical is that a few weeks ago, I bought some Mevotech greasable ball joints for my Corolla off a seller on Amazon. Unfortunately, they sent me Mevotech’s Asian-made Chasis Rite line of greasable ball joints with almost the identical p/n on a different box. I complained and for another $13. they sent me my Mevotechs. Weird thing is, they’re identical to the Chasis Rite (which they didn’t even want back) parts in every way. I understand that there can be internal differences and differences in metalergy and polishing, but I’d bet my right arm they’re identical. If that isn’t confusing enough, the Chasis Rite box says “Made in Taiwan” and the Mevotech box says “Made in China”- I was led to believe that Mevotech is supposed to be made in the USA, that’s one of the reasons I went with them.

    I have a friend in the auto parts biz that says every auto part is made in Asia (mostly China) now. He also says this metal to metal ball joint receiver that the Mevotech claims may not be as good as a ball that sits on a nylon or plastic race of some kind, and just because it’s greasable (which I will grease several times a year) isn’t necessarily as good as non-greasables. I sorta diagree.

    Any genuine comments on all this would be VERY helpful and appreciated. Dean

  • savino

    It is hard the find reliable auto parts , I personally buy a from 1A auto parts as long as they have the parts I need, which is often, I keep a list of places I use and how reliable there parts where, and how they fit, and as well, how long they last, so before I buy auto parts, which for myself is all week long. I go to my list of favorite part dealers, I rarely go to a car dealer ship for parts , as for the most part they are junk, Dealer parts are not made to last, engineers get paid a lot of money to make sure that the parts only will last a certain amount of time. (fact, sorry to say)Dealer parts are fine when your trying to keep a special car stock, and it hardly gets drivin…what I,m trying to say is….do your research, and keep a log of good, and bad experiances with auto parts..you,ll save your self a lot of future grief….

  • [...] and car enthusiasts prefer aftermarket parts instead of OEM parts. But as Jeremy Nutt posted in his 1A auto blog (Nov. 22, 2010), “… not all auto parts are created [...]

  • Good write up keep it up, i will be one of your regular readers. Auto Repair.

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