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Dealer’s Voice: To use or not to use manufacturer’s parts

Should car owners always insist on using OEM replacement parts in order to ensure the safest possible performance of their automobile?

Published July 6, 2012

For years, there has been a debate in automotive circles about Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts versus non-OEM or imitation replacement parts.

OEM parts are those installed on an automobile at the factory, which carry the manufacturer’s warranty. They meet all factory specifications with regard to fit, finish, safety and crash worthiness and are sold over the counter at new car dealerships.

Non-OEM parts, on the other hand, are not produced by the vehicle’s original manufacturer and are not subject to the same testing procedures. Hence, automotive technicians and collision specialists contend that non-OEM (or aftermarket) parts are not of the same standard in quality to OEM parts and demonstrate decreased tolerances for corrosion resistance and lower crash resistance than factory-approved parts.

In my opinion, that’s an unfair exaggeration. I know of countless examples where non-OEM parts (i.e., Brembo brakes, Munroe shocks) are just as reliable (if not superior to) OEM parts.

Some insurance companies claim that no appreciable difference exists between OEM and non-OEM parts. That argument may hold sway with specific mechanical and electronic components, but not for sheet metal parts.

Non-OEM body panels and fenders are often made from inferior materials and don’t line up correctly when installed, and can be more costly to install. Again, collision repair experts generally agree with these assessments.

When it comes to mechanical or collision repairs, some insurance providers will write a stipulation into a policy, insisting that non-OEM parts be used, particularly once a vehicle has reached a certain age, or mileage.

In such cases, if a car owner insists on using OEM replacement parts, he or she may be required to pay the difference in price, which can be substantial. Always read the fine print on your insurance policy to understand what type of replacements parts are covered under your policy.

Since OEM parts typically cost more than non-OEM parts, it’s reasonable to understand why some insurance companies insist that policyholders choose the less pricey option. Insurance companies argue that paying less for replacement parts helps to keep insurance costs down.

So, should car owners always insist on using OEM replacement parts in order to ensure the safest possible performance of their automobile, and to maintain its value? That’s a difficult question. For sheet metal parts, I’d say yes, but for mechanical and electronic components, it depends on the age of the vehicle, the OEM manufacturer and, of course, price.

For replacement items that fall under warranty protection, new car dealers are obligated by the manufacturer to use OEM parts. Installing non-OEM parts could jeopardize a vehicle’s warranty in some cases.

Another important distinction between OEM vs. non-OEM parts concerns leased vehicles. If you drive a leased vehicle, check your lease agreement before agreeing to any mechanical or collision repairs.

Some lease agreements stipulate that lessees must use only genuine OEM parts; doing otherwise could result in financial penalties at the end of the lease agreement.

When warranty coverage has expired, car owners who need replacement parts have the option of choosing a new car dealer or an independent shop. One reason why consumers occasionally choose an independent shop is price.

There is a common perception that all OEM parts are more expensive at a dealership than at an independent shop. That’s not true.

Customers are often surprised to learn that the majority of OEM parts available at a dealership are competitively priced, compared to non-OEM parts available elsewhere. Plus, independent shops often contact new car dealers for specialized knowledge in diagnosing and installing replacement parts.

The debate over OEM and non-OEM parts is far from over. Consumers should be aware of the two distinctions in case they ever need to make decisions about replacement parts.

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