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Spare Parts For Less: Are Aftermarket Parts Worth It?

If you’re looking to customize your vehicle, increase performance, or save a little money on your next repair, aftermarket parts are worth a closer look. While they often get second-billing to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, aftermarket components are normally just as reliable while carrying a much lower price tag. That said, not all aftermarket brands are created equal, which is why it’s so important to do your research when wading into the world of aftermarket components. We’ve compiled a quick primer on the difference between aftermarket components and their OEM brethren. Whether you’re looking to replace a headlight after a fender bender, tune your suspension for a little high-octane fun, or set your ride apart with a stylish set of wheels, aftermarket parts can make it easy to realize your automotive dreams on a budget.

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OEM Parts

Let’s start with OEM parts, which is a term used to describe any components made by the same manufacturer that produced the vehicle and are usually purchased directly from an authorized dealership or retail supplier. There are a number of reasons some drivers prefer OEM parts to their aftermarket counterparts. First off, OEM parts are designed by the automaker itself and must meet strict standards. These parts are guaranteed to be compatible with your specific make and model, which means less back-and-forth to the auto parts store trying to find the perfect fit. OEM parts are also often perceived as more reliable than aftermarket components––though this is a matter of debate––thanks to the fact that they’re identical to the vehicle’s original parts. If a reputation for reliability isn’t enough, OEM parts usually come with a factory warranty. While these warranties differ by manufacturer, it’s a nice insurance policy that justifies some of the cost associated with OEM parts.

Speaking of cost, that is often one of the downsides associated with the OEM approach. These parts tend to be a little pricier than their aftermarket cousins. When it comes to pricing, OEM parts also suffer from their specificity. When a brand can make parts that fit a number of different makes and models, it’s much easier to turn a profit than designing a part that’s just limited to owners of a fourth-generation Honda Accord, for example. Aside from the cost, it can also be difficult to source OEM parts due to limited availability. They can take longer to order and are generally tougher to find than many aftermarket options.

Aftermarket Parts

Aftermarket parts, on the other hand, are those made by a manufacturer that didn’t have a hand in designing or producing the original components of your vehicle. There’s nothing inherently bad about aftermarket parts, but unlike OEM parts, they’re often not designed with a specific make and model in mind as a means of expanding the potential customer base. This means that it can take a little more trial and error to ensure a good fit. That’s not necessarily true in all cases, as some aftermarket parts can be just as specific and purpose-built as OEM options, but in general, they’re designed to be a little more general purpose.

These aftermarket parts normally go through the same rigorous design, engineering, manufacturing, and testing process as OEM components; there’s just no input from the original automaker along the way. Well, we shouldn’t say “no” input. Aftermarket parts suppliers often base their designs around OEM components in order to ensure a good fit and proper performance. However, there is usually no dialogue with the automaker itself.

This approach carries a number of benefits for drivers, who will enjoy not only lower costs but greater availability. Aftermarket parts also offer a little more flexibility and allow drivers to customize their vehicles to meet their wildest dreams. Major automobile brands might not want to be associated with some of the unhinged, Monster Garage-esque customizations that some drivers might undertake, so they simply won’t produce or market any OEM parts that could be used for such a purpose. Aftermarket suppliers have no such qualms and are happy to create the flashy, high-performance, or heavy-duty parts you need to build the ride of your dreams. In short, OEM brands tend to focus strictly on replacement parts, while aftermarket brands are able to flex their creative muscle a bit, designing not only replacement parts but also upgrades and accessories that can help take your automotive game to the next level.

On the downside, aftermarket parts usually don’t carry the same robust warranty you’ll find on OEM components. Still, drivers who try to ding aftermarket parts for their quality should keep one important fact in mind: in 2019 alone, we saw almost 53 million vehicles and parts recalled. Each one of those was deemed unsafe due to the potential failure of an OEM part designed by the automaker itself. This is a prime example of OEM parts not necessarily being superior to aftermarket products. Sure, there are always going to be fly-by-night, brands trying to make a quick buck by selling low-quality aftermarket parts, but by and large, aftermarket parts are usually just as safe and reliable as OEM options.

In an effort to throw one more confusing bit of info into the mix, we’ll hit you with this: some aftermarket parts suppliers are also OEM parts suppliers. Aftermarket parts suppliers often have considerable expertise in manufacturing specific components, so it makes sense that they would be called on to produce OEM parts. For instance, if you source Toyota OEM brake calipers, chances are they’re actually produced by Akebono, a Japanese brand that supplies components to major automakers like Toyota, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan, and more. There’s usually little difference between the OEM and aftermarket parts produced by the same supplier. In some cases, they’re perfectly identical, which is why aftermarket parts can represent such great value for drivers looking for OEM quality without spending OEM money.

Save Money on Repairs

If you’re faced with an expensive repair or just looking to upgrade your ride, aftermarket components can be a great way to save a little money. While some drivers might chide such components for their quality or lack of warranty, the fact is they’re often just as dependable as many of the OEM parts on offer at a fraction of the price. In fact, many of these aftermarket parts are made by the same companies––and on the same assembly lines––as their OEM counterparts, which raises the question: why pay OEM prices when you can get the same quality from an aftermarket supplier?

That said, it’s important to pick the right brand, as some shadier operators certainly live up to all the negative stereotypes. Brands like Akebono, Bosch, and Denso that supply OEM parts are a good start, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to aftermarket parts suppliers. If you’re looking for recommendations on a specific brand or part, ask your local mechanic for their advice or survey friends and family on some of their best finds. If you know how to navigate the world of aftermarket auto parts, the cost of that next repair or upgrade might be a little easier to stomach.