OEM vs Aftermarket Parts: which should you buy?

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The great OEM vs aftermarket parts debate. It's kind of a toss-up. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The great OEM vs aftermarket parts debate. It’s kind of a toss-up. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

OEM, for the low and unitiated, means Original Equipment Manufacturer, and one of the eternal debates among shadetree mechanics (and real ones) is OEM vs aftermarket parts. There are pros and cons to both, so it behooves one to know a few things.

The great debate of OEM vs aftermarket parts

The long and short of the OEM vs aftermarket parts discussion is that OEM can be better, and aftermarket can be cheaper. The choice is going to be totally up to you, and it can end up being a crapshoot.

OEM is an acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which means the people who made it. If you drive a Toyota and get an OEM oil filter, that means it’s either made by Toyota or the same outfit that makes them for the factory. Aftermarket means it was made by someone else.

Why should I care?

The biggest difference between OEM vs aftermarket parts that most people will notice is cost. OEM replacement parts, while they are the exact same as the ones that were installed at the factory, are generally more expensive. Aftermarket parts have been either licensed or, as Edmunds points out, reverse-engineered so the firm that makes it is basically making the same thing.

However, unlike OEM parts, the manufacturer has no quality control when it comes to aftermarket parts manufacturers. That means you may be getting a cheaper, less reliable product. It could likewise mean you’re getting a better product; as Edmunds also points out, some aftermarket companies will improve on the design at their own initiative and make a part better than the OEM version.

However, NOT with body panels. Get those from the OEM.

If having your car repaired, the cost difference may be included in an estimate; it also may not, as not all states require the distinction be made in automotive repair estimates.

You’re not getting in this garage without a warranty

Another thing to bear in mind when considering OEM vs aftermarket parts is warranty. OEM parts carry warranties, some of which are quite comprehensive; Volvo North America, according to AutoGuide, has a lifetime warranty on OEM parts. General Motors has a limited lifetime warranty on select OEM parts and so on. Some aftermarket parts makers do as well, but some don’t.

So, decisions…which to buy? Well, it’s a crapshoot. Do some research, talk to some mechanics, ideally not while they’re working on your car and stand to make money off the parts. You may get an idea what parts for what cars to avoid. Good luck out there.

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