Nobody likes to pay dealership prices for Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts. There have probably been times when you’ve gone to buy a part from a dealership and left feeling like they should’ve been wearing ski masks and pointing a gun at you. That’s the biggest reason that aftermarket auto parts stores like Napa, Advance, and Auto Zone are so big now. They sell parts that will fit your vehicle at prices that can be up to half as much as you’d pay at the dealer. But are those parts of the same quality? Well, some are and some are not. Here’s a few tips to help you make the right choice when it comes to buying parts for your vehicle.
One of the most important areas you’ll ever replace in your vehicle is actually one of the spots where you’re safe buying aftermarket…in certain areas. When it comes to pads, if you go with a top-line name like Bendix or Brembo, you’ll be great. Some of the lesser lines should be strayed away from. Now, there are different quality lines of store-brand pads as well. Napa’s Ceramix line is actually quite comparable to much of the standard equipment being offered right from the factory, so in most cases you’re safe going aftermarket here.
On the other hand, when it comes to rotors and drums there have been some well-known cases of aftermarket parts coming already warped. This may have a lot to do with how they are shipped. When drums and rotors are set on their sides, they are more apt to warp. Buying these parts aftermarket heightens the risk of this issue. Hydraulic parts such as calipers, wheel cylinders, and hoses are also going to be of a slightly higher quality from the dealer. Again, this is not the area of your vehicle to be stingy. Brake hardware is safe from either market.
The spark plugs you buy from a parts store are going to be some of the same plugs that came in your vehicle as original equipment. Many will actually be upgrades; however, many manufacturers suggest sticking with the specific type plug that came standard for optimum performance. For example, if your vehicle came with Copper Plus, switching to a Quad-Platinum is something the manufacturer would frown upon, regardless of who makes it.
Filters are the same story. Many of the filters that are stamped with the name of the vehicle manufacturer are made by the same companies that supply parts stores with their parts. Fram, Purolator, and Hastings are all manufacturers who can match the standards of original equipment for much less money.
Other small areas where dealers should be avoided at all costs are: windshield wipers, light bulbs, fluids, belts, hoses, batteries, exhaust, and fuses. These are all items that you can find aftermarket in the same quality that can be found in your vehicle the day it rolled off the assembly line for far less money.
Steering and Suspension
As long as you’re not speaking of anything electronic, you’re safe going aftermarket for steering and suspension parts. Mechanical steering parts like tie rods, idler arms, pitman arms, and ball joints are actually of a very high quality from aftermarket companies like Moog. Monroe is also a well-known company that makes quality shocks and struts, many of which feature a lifetime warranty. Go aftermarket here as well.
The one area of steering and suspension you don’t want to go aftermarket with is the electronic parts. Many vehicles now come with electric steering and computerized air suspension. These are areas where the manufacturer has the market cornered concerning quality; stick with OEM.
By electrical, we’re talking about several of the electronics that are on your vehicle, like the computer, digital gauges, navigation systems, relays, and electronic controllers, as well as the charging and starting system. This is the one area where aftermarket parts have seen the most problems. For whatever reason, electrical parts just seem to be better from the dealer. Despite their added cost, this is an area where it’s worth the extra dough to avoid the headaches. Granted, many people have bought starters and alternators aftermarket and had no issues. That’s great, but we’re talking about statistics, and stats say that electrical is a problem area for the aftermarket. Stick with OEM here unless you really enjoy changing parts on your car.
Engine and Transmission Parts
If you’re driving a newer vehicle, chances are you’ll never need to buy these parts aftermarket because the dealership will be doing most of the powertrain repairs. Especially with many vehicles now offering the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties. However, if you are in the need of these areas, if you stick with the higher end of the aftermarket, you’re safe. Your local parts store professional should be able to guide you to the better parts, and you can really save a bundle here by sticking with the aftermarket. Gaskets are just as good from manufacturers like Fel-Pro and Beck-Arnley as they are from the dealer. The one area where this is not the case is in certain vehicles that had head gasket or intake gasket issues and were served with a recall. In these cases, the dealer will be the only one with the updated gasket to fix the problem, but it shouldn’t cost you anything to fix it if it’s a recalled part.
Aftermarket parts can be life savers for the people who can’t quite afford the elevated prices of the dealer, but quality should always be your first choice to avoid several of the headaches that can come with having to replace the same parts on a constant basis.