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Genuine, OEM or Aftermarket Car Parts: Which is Better?

Whether you’re purchasing parts for your fixed marketing ops department, an experienced mechanic looking for the best deal for a customer or a dedicated DIYer, you want to understand the difference between genuine, OEM and aftermarket auto parts. For most people, it’s enough to know that aftermarket auto parts cost less and that’s all that matters — but should price be the end all, be all? Let’s take a closer look and find out which is better.

Auto Parts Manufacturing: A Primer

Most of us think that genuine and OEM parts are all made by the original manufacturers of the vehicles in which they’re used. And, really, who could blame us when the abbreviation “OEM” actually means original equipment manufacturer? All it takes is a little bit of mental aerobics to clear up any confusion though. As one auto blogger writes, it’s pretty obvious that “Ford factories don’t make the shocks, tie rods, brake pads, or headlights…making the factory more of a final assembly rather than actually creating the vehicle’s parts.” Clearly, genuine and OEM parts are simply branded and/or licensed parts whereas aftermarket parts may be just the same without the licensing and branding (or, in some cases, even better).

What Makes It a Genuine Auto Part?

It should come as no surprise that a genuine part will be exactly the same as your original part, right down to its SKU and logo. And while genuine parts work great in your ride, they wind up being the most expensive primarily due to the branding. Naturally, many people assume that the more expensive the part is, the better a choice it will be but it turns out, OEM parts are usually just as good, yet more affordable. Depending on the part you need, however, it may sometimes be that buying genuine parts is  the only option.

OEM Parts: What’s in a Name?

The abbreviation OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which is a just another way of saying that they’re made by the same company that makes genuine parts. In fact, OEM parts are typically made in the same factory, using the same materials and using the same tools and dies as genuine parts. There are really only two major differences between a genuine and an OEM auto parts:

  1. Genuine auto parts feature the make’s branding, while OEM auto parts don’t.
  2. The price: OEM parts are much more affordable than branded, genuine parts.

Aftermarket Parts: A Question of Quality

When you buy a new car or if you’re fortunate enough to own a luxury vehicle you’ll have been told that the best move is to stick with OEM or genuine parts you can get at the dealership. In fact, whether it’s the latest model Corolla or a brand-new X5, you can count on getting only the highest quality parts from your dealer. But, as we saw above, this is really more a question of quality than of purity since neither Toyota nor BMW are actually in the business of making brake pads or clutches. Still, there are times when you don’t want or need to buy your parts from the dealership and want to go the aftermarket route. Clearly, aftermarket parts are cheaper but won’t you be sacrificing quality and performance when you buy them?

Three reasons why quality aftermarket parts are so much cheaper than OEM or genuine parts:

  1. Aftermarket parts manufacturers specialize in making one or a set of related parts. Simply due to scale and specialization they are able to drive down costs.
  2. OEM-approved and genuine parts must go through a rigorous process to be branded and sold at dealerships which increases their price. In addition, most OEM parts aren’t stocked at the dealership and have to be specially ordered and shipped.
  3. Non-OEM parts are made by a variety of companies which depresses their prices.

Clearly, if  you know what you’re doing and are acquainted with the company you can get a great price on a great part. One major caveat is that you probably want to steer clear of no-name brands and sellers on marketplaces like eBay.

The Final Analysis

In general, it’s always a safe bet to buy OEM or genuine auto parts since you’ll never have to worry about quality. However, there are some cases when aftermarket parts are better because they’re designed to solve a problem with an existing, genuine part. These so-called problem-solver parts can be found at reputable stores like NAPA, and Advanced Auto Parts and are one example of a case where aftermarket is better. You can also find both aftermarket and OEM car parts on Amazon. In the end, the decision is yours but making an informed choice is always the best option.

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