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What is the difference between OEM vs. aftermarket parts?

October 07, 2014 4 min read

With today’s price conscious consumers, buying an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or aftermarket car part can make a huge difference in savings, anywhere from 26 to 50 percent, according to I.I.I. But, are you getting the same quality for both parts? Will an OEM part last longer? Will the aftermarket part fit? Are you really saving money in the long run?

These are all viable questions. And, when it comes to spending a few hundred dollars, you want to make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck. How do you go with the most cost effective alternative, but also make sure the car part will fit your car, and it won’t rust within a matter of years?

Let’s dig in to the differences and which part might be right for you.

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Car Parts

OEM car parts are made by the vehicle’s manufacturer and is the same exact part you’d get if you took your car apart. You can purchase OEM parts through car dealers, which often means you’re paying a much higher premium. However, since OEM parts are the original parts your dealer would provide, you can rest assured that they’re going to meet high quality standards and are guaranteed to fit your car.

Aftermarket Car Parts

Aftermarket car parts are generally made by manufacturers that did not take part in manufacturing your vehicle’s original car parts (although, they could be). Instead, aftermarket car parts are created AFTER your car rolled off the assembly line. There are different types of aftermarket parts, including parts sold by car dealers but under their own brand, independently manufactured parts, remanufactured and reconditioned parts.

Since there are different types of aftermarket car parts, they all differ in quality and standards. You have high quality aftermarket car parts, which are often comparable to OEM parts. Some high quality aftermarket car parts are even vastly improved versions of OEM parts, due to companies finding faults in the original design and correcting them before producing a better product. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are lower quality aftermarket car parts, which are the ones that give “aftermarket parts” a bad reputation, are cheap to produce, and may not come close to OEM standards. There are always aftermarket car parts far in between, and it really comes down to the notion, “you get for what you pay for”.

Choosing between OEM or aftermarket

As you decide between OEM or aftermarket car parts, you also have to consider what type of parts you need. There is much more risk in purchasing an aftermarket bumper beam that may or may not meet crash safety tests, versus purchasing aftermarket bumper covers which mainly serve a cosmetic purpose.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cosmetic auto body parts, such as the fender or bumper cover, do not affect the vehicle strength or safety ratings. Aftermarket issues to look out for in these cases are merely cosmetic - including fit, finish and durability.

Although some bumper covers are designed to reduce shock, they do not make as huge of an impact as that of a structural bumper beam – which could mean the world of a difference in a head-on collision.

Another thought to consider is how important cost is to you. By purchasing an OEM car part, you know exactly what you’re getting – the exact part that came off your car, produced by the same manufacturer. There is no guessing involved and the part is guaranteed to fit and work with your car. However, be prepared to pay a high price for these parts. OEM parts are controlled by car dealers, which means there is minimal price difference between these dealers.

On the other hand, aftermarket car parts are manufactured by different companies from different countries – and, they’re all competing with one another. Aftermarket car parts, therefore, will be much cheaper than OEM parts, but will greatly vary in quality and price. You may only save 20% compared to OEM car parts but get the same quality, if not better. Or, you can save 50% compared to OEM car parts but get a car part you’ll need to weld, drill and force to fit your car.

The Verdict

High quality aftermarket parts are the way to go if you want to save money, while ensuring you keep your car in great condition. There is no point in paying a premium for the brand name, OEM part when you can get the same quality part at a discounted price. However, it is also not worth it to pay a very cheap price to get a part that won’t fit your car and may end up costing you much more in labor and replacement costs in the end.

Aftermarket car parts are used by most body shops nationwide and are generally accepted by most insurance companies. However, make sure you review your state’s policies in regards to using aftermarket car parts.

Also, know your seller or the company you’re buying from. If it’s a reputable company, chances are they’re selling quality parts and wouldn’t risk giving you low quality parts to prevent you from coming back. A trustworthy company will have good customer reviews, a reasonable return policy and offer great customer support. Don’t forget to check if they offer warranties to ensure you’re taken care of in the long run.