Pros and Cons of Aftermarket Car Parts

Car accident scene with police officer
••• Getty Images/Image Source

If you have ever had your auto repaired, then you know that the cost of car parts can be pretty prohibitive. And you face a decision: using original equipment manufacturer (OEM) vs. aftermarket parts. The latter is usually cheaper, but weighing the pros and cons of aftermarket parts brings up a whole bunch of questions. Here are some answers.

What Exactly Are Aftermarket Parts?

Aftermarket parts are made by a company other than your vehicle's original manufacturer. Intended to be replacements, they are not used; they are new pieces of equipment. They just weren't manufactured by the company (or a subcontractor on behalf of that company) that made the parts in your original vehicle—the OEM.

Does it really matter who makes the parts? It depends on the specific part and who makes it. The conventional thinking is that aftermarket parts are of lesser quality than the originals or, to put it bluntly, that cheap means cheap. And that was the case years ago. The quality of aftermarket parts has improved over the last several years, though, with many today of equal or even higher quality than OEM parts.

Pros of Aftermarket Parts

Cost: This is the big one, and probably the only reason you’re even having this internal debate in the first place. Prices for aftermarket parts are almost always less than with OEM parts. Sometimes they are much, much cheaper—discounted by as much as 40 percent.

Selection: Your car has only one manufacturer, so if you want an OEM part, you will have only one option. As we all know, one source means that prices will be higher. Not so with the aftermarket. In fact, you may have loads of makers to choose from. A big selection brings with it more convenience, too. You're much more likely to find the aftermarket version of a part you need at your local parts store as compared to the OEM version, which may only be available at the dealership's shop and need to be ordered, take a while to come in, etc. All this means less delay and wait time before you can hit the road again.

Quality: Again, this is something you can vary depending on the type of equipment that needs replacement. But it's not that unusual to find a brand-name aftermarket part whose quality meets or exceeds the OEM version.

Cons of Aftermarket Parts

Quality: There are two sides to the quality issue with aftermarket parts, and this one has to do with quality consistency. You'll have more options with aftermarket parts, but not all aftermarket parts are created equal. A greater selection means a higher likelihood of some lower-quality items or items that aren’t a good fit for your specific vehicle. Low quality often has to do with fit and finish problems that can cause more trouble than they're worth down the road. Unless you’re working with a mechanic or auto shop that you really know you can trust, it might be best to be safe and think "brand name."

Warranty: Practically all OEM parts come with some level of warranty protection, usually one year. Aftermarket parts sometimes come with little or no warranty. There's usually a reason for this. Did I mention sticking to brand names?

Determining Aftermarket Parts' Quality

Determining the quality of aftermarket parts is a bit of a gamble but, to be honest, using OEM parts can be a bit of a gamble, too. Think about it. If you're in to repair a broken or worn out OEM part, there's the possibility that quality was a problem with it to start with.

So, how do you decide which part to use? Ask a trusted mechanic. Check out what consumers are saying online. Investigate the aftermarket parts manufacturer's reputation. And remember to ask yourself this question: Is the price too good to be true? If the answer is "yes," then stay away. No sense in saving a few bucks now to replace a part…if it means you'll have to replace it again and again.