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.)

Cadillac Catera: Great Idea, Awful Car.

Cadillac Catera

Cadillac Catera

I used to be a technician at a Cadillac dealer.  At the time, I was just out of school, and ready to take on the world.  Being the youthful new guy and getting paid by the hour (not by flat rate), I got all the jobs that nobody else wanted.  This period in time also coincided with what I like to call “the Cadillac Catera era”. Lucky me.

The Catera was a really great idea on paper.  It was a small car, with rear wheel drive, a DOHC V6, power everything, and it wasn’t even that bad looking. They had a firm ride, handled alright, and even had a cool winter driving mode that made driving in the snow slightly less scary. Although I don’t feel like it had any business being part of the Cadillac brand, it did have a lot of things going for it.

I was at the dealer when the Cateras started arriving on tow trucks, and I was also the guy fixing the majority of them.  Why were they on tow trucks, you ask?  Well, because the water pump and timing belt idler bearings failed.  The ball bearings would then sprinkle down onto the spinning crankshaft making the timing belt jump time, which then caused catastrophic engine failure.  Being an outsider looking in, it was pretty awesome to see.  It was especially horrific when this failure happened at highway speeds.  I would find mangled valve heads trapped in the catalytic converters, holes in pistons, and timing belt covers that looked like they were removed with a chainsaw.  I really wish I had taken pictures of some of it.

Unfortunately for the Cateras, their engines were not their only flaw.  For a reason that I still do not know, Cateras have tire issues.  The inside edges of the tires are always bald, every time.  An alignment to factory specs won’t help, so it’s no use trying.  You just have to learn to appreciate bald tires.  Once you get past the whole “driving on bald tires & catastrophic engine failure” thing, you have to think about the rear differentials, because they are weak and frequently spit parts out.  They don’t do this all the time, just most of the time.  I like to think that the differential is so disgusted with the engine that is powering it, that it logically removes itself from the Catera equation.  If the car does somehow survive the catastrophic timing belt failure, balding tires, and rear end gear shredding fiasco, there will always be dead coil pack, leaking hot water valve, and busted LED tail light issues to ruin your day.

With all of that being said, someday when I am bored and need a new challenge, I may pick up a Catera (After all, they are dirt cheap for obvious reasons).  Then I would just need to stuff an L92 in it with a t-56, and a solid rear axle.  That will solve the majority of the issues that the Catera was plagued with. The rest, I can live with.

Image borrowed from:

http://www.edmunds.com/

Top 3 Most Awesome Ways to Destroy Your Engine

Once you get past the whole “I completely horrified my engine” thing, catastrophic engine damage is really awesome to see.  Here is the Nutts & Bolts Top 3 Most Awesome Ways to Destroy your Engine:

1) Blowing pistons and / or connecting rods right through the engine block.

Typically when your internal engine parts forcefully become external, they do so for good reason. You likely built the engine wrong, over revved it, or had a complete lack of lubrication. What you may not realize, is that this seemingly negative action is a really just your car’s way of telling you it wants a more powerful engine.

2) Destroying your valves in epic fashion.

Whether it is losing your timing belt at highway speeds with an interference engine, or running lean enough to turn steel into magma, it sure is fun to see.  The grossest display of shared combustion chamber space that I’ve seen was a Cadillac Catera that I worked on many years ago.  It had broken the heads off the valves, bounced them around the cylinders, and then pushed them right back through the exhaust ports.  The inside of the engine looked as if it were trying to combust rocks instead of gasoline.  It was an epic win for shared space that day. Let’s not forget burned valves though, you get an extra points when the valves burn and destroy your turbo in the same instant.

3) Recipe for disaster: The automotive cocktail of destruction.

  • 1 Blown intake / head gasket
  • 1 Part Oil
  • 4 Part Antifreeze
  • 2 tbsp metal shavings
  • Mix vigorously
  • Cook at 220 degrees for approximately 3 minutes or until engine eruption is complete.
  • Enjoy automotive cocktail of destruction.

Bon appetit!