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Auto Parts: OEM vs. Aftermarket Auto Body Parts


There's a lot of controversy over what's best when your vehicle requires repairs or routine maintenance: original equipment manufacturer's (OEM) parts, or "functionally equivalent" substitutes manufactured by a third party – also known as "aftermarket" auto body parts?

Andy Kass of Direct Fit Auto Body Parts has some comments on the subject.

"Not all aftermarket parts can be classified as 'low quality.' Some in fact are very high quality. It just depends on the manufacturer you get them from and the quality standards you request."

Strong Opinions, But...

It is arguable – particularly by the insurance industry – that aftermarket body parts as just as good as the OEM parts they replace, or better – particularly if they are cheaper.

On the other hand, there have been complaints by auto repair professionals and car owners alike that aftermarket body parts often to not fit correctly, or are of inferior quality.

Like everything in life, this debate is by no means cut and dried. It is true that some "off-make" brands of some components made by some aftermarket manufacturers are not as well-made as their OEM counterparts. Replacement body panels are often a case in point. However, in light of manufacturing outsourcing by major U.S. auto companies to factories in Latin America and Southeast Asia where quality controls are questionable at best, there are many aftermarket parts – particularly components such as a headlight, tail light, side view mirror, radiator fans, power window regulators and brakes – made in U.S. and German factories that are far superior to OEM equipment. A good example of this is in the case of radiators. You can get better cooling in your Ford by installing a Mustang aluminum radiator.

Chances Are...

In some cases, the argument is moot, because chances are good anymore that many of your car's components were not even made by the manufacturer of the vehicle itself. In fact, several identical vehicles of the same make, model and year may all have components made by different companies. This is a major reason why your neighbor's 2006 Blingmobile Bandero SUV runs like a Swiss watch for years without any trouble, while yours has been in and out of the shop repeatedly. His Bandero has high-quality electrical parts made by Bosch, while those in your car came from a backstreet manquiladora in Los Ladrones, Parador.

Why?

At one time, there was no such thing as an "aftermarket." The auto manufacturer produced virtually every component of the vehicles they produced – and had the sole legal right to do so. This allowed the car companies to charge whatever they liked, but there was a problem: if for some reason the facility in their factory producing generators went off-line, it affected the whole assembly process. Therefore, it made logistical sense to license the design to a number of outside companies, so that there were redundant sources for a particular part.

This practice opened the door in the 1980s to a large number of independent companies that began producing replacement parts for specific vehicles. In many cases, they could produce a better product for less money.

Performance Aftermarket

There was another market segment to consider as well; those who were not satisfied with their vehicles' stock appearance and performance levels. Talented and skilled individuals have been modifying their vehicles for decades of course, but virtually always had to make their own custom parts. Today's aftermarket manufacturers offer a plethora of high-performance parts and custom body components designed to make a plain "out-of-the-box" vehicle run faster and look sportier with little need for mechanical skills beyond the ability to use a socket wrench and a screwdriver (and read written instructions).

There is no reason not to purchase aftermarket parts; just be aware that like everything else on the automotive market, the quality can vary a great deal – so do your due diligence.