Sometimes OEM Parts Aren’t Better Than After-Market

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In Monday’s post about dealership parts pricing secrets I wrote that “All things being equal, the manufacturer’s parts are better” than after-market parts. Correctly, a couple of comments pointed out that OEM parts are usually better, but not always. Here are some situations where after-market companies make an excellent quality part.

Motor oil. Not all motor oils are created equal…but there’s usually not a lot of difference either. Whether you’re using “natural” oil, pure synthetic, or a blend of the two, the after-market offers an excellent option. From premium synthetics like Amsoil and Mobil 1 that match or outperform factory oil to plain old Penzoil, all the oil you’ll find at your local auto parts store is good enough to get the job done (at least if you change it frequently enough).

Air filters. The factory air filter in your vehicle is a compromise between noise, cost, and performance. Most OEMs are still using low-tech paper air filters because they’re good enough to get the job done when they’re clean, they’re very quiet, and they’re absurdly cheap.

K & N air filter

We tested a K&N air filter and saw better fuel economy and throttle response in exchange for a little more engine noise. We think it's a pretty good trade.

However – air flow rates on paper air filters drop off pretty dramatically once they get a little dirty, which means that you either need to buy a new paper air filter every 5-10k miles to maintain optimum performance or go with a superior after-market air filter that doesn’t begin to restrict airflow as soon as it gets a little dirty. We tested a K&N air filter and found it offered better throttle response and better fuel economy than the factory filter, the trade being a slightly higher cost and a little more engine noise. When you stop compromising because of cost and noise, performance improves.

Batteries. This is a situation where there’s actually a very clear benefit in buying an after-market part. Because batteries are so interchangeable – one battery can be designed to fit in dozens of different vehicles – after-market companies can manufacturer hundreds of thousands or even millions of batteries at a time…which means they can approach OEM costs. Because there’s so much competition, most after-market batteries meet or exceed OEM standards. While we don’t recommend buying the cheapest battery possible, often times that’s exactly what the OEM does…so you really can’t go wrong buying anything else.

Tires. If you’re looking for a tire that’s quiet, has a good ride, and doesn’t cost very much, the OEM tire is a decent option. Otherwise, the after-market has a better solution. OEM truck tires in particular are notoriously cheap – most truck manufacturers place passenger car tires on their new trucks in order to save as much money as possible.

Electronic accessories. While factory stereos have improved immensely in the last decade, they’re still inferior to most quality after-market units. The speakers in the door panels are sometimes ultra-cheap paper cones, and it’s a rare occurrence when a factory head unit has both clarity over a wide range and the power to make some real volume. After-market stereos are still a cut above factory units, and that goes for GPS systems and in-car entertainment too.

Other parts where the after-market does a great job:

  • Shocks – Just like batteries, shocks can be made to fit many different vehicles. OEM shocks are usually the cheapest part available, so almost any after-market shock will be better.
  • Premium brake pads and rotors – We evaluated both premium after-market brake pads and after-market rotors for trucks. OEM parts are a compromise between noise, cost, and performance – if you’re willing to pay a little more, after-market pads and rotors are better.
  • Lighting – When it comes to headlights, an auto manufacturer’s main concern is cost. After-market lamps are usually just as good as or much better than factory.
  • Accessories – From floor mats to tonneau covers to exhaust systems to wheels, the after-market offers a much wider range of options at a better cost. While not all after-market accessories are top quality, most of the big names offer good quality stuff.

Comments – anything I missed?

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  1. Brian says:

    What about oil filters? OEM or Purolater?

  2. Jason says:

    Brian – I’m on the fence. The parts guys I know swear by OEM filters because of their supposedly higher quality, but I’m not convinced. I guess my opinion is that while filters are essential, they’re changed so often that there’s not much sense in buying the most expensive one available. A name-brand filter is good enough for me – what’s your take?

  3. Brian says:

    Jason – My take is to buy a quality oil filter that has a high SAE multi-pass and single-pass efficiency. I’m a big fan of Purolater (Made in USA and very good posted SAE results on the packaging). The Toyota filters also look to be very high quality, but are made in Thailand and have no posted SAE filtration results. Fram is a definite no-go along with the Champion filters (STP, ACDelco, SuperTech, etc) . Not sure about Mobil 1 filters or K&N oil filters. $10-20 twice a year is a small price to pay to ensure excellent filtration of my engine’s oil. I would rather spend a little more now and avoid a possible engine teardown at 150-200,000 miles due to excessive oil consumption and wear from inadequate filtration. Many have probably had no problems from discount filters and will likely post such, I’m just picky about what I put in the engine. I bought a Toyota to get the best quality available in the industry, so I’m going to use a quality filter to protect it. Just my two cents.

  4. greg says:

    This should help about the construction of some of the oil filters by brands. I know it is focused on dodges but they should be similar by manufactures. That would be something good for you to review Jason, the make up of filters and who’s makes the better product. Something else to consider is the with the higher level it can affect the oil pressure and put strain on the pump, I have seen it case oil starvation. That can end badly!

  5. TXTee says:

    Jason – I’m considering the Toyota Big Brake Kit later this year. Any suggestions on whether there’s a better alternative and cost differences? I’m not sure if this falls under the section above for pads and rotors.

  6. Jason says:

    Brian – You make a very compelling argument.
    Greg – Awesome link man – thank you for sharing. When you say “higher level” and oil pressure you’re referring to the fact that better filters place more wear and tear on the oil pump, right? Makes perfect sense, just want to get it right.
    TXTee – This is a situation where the after-market might not offer a kit for a lower cost, and where Toyota is using quality parts. I’m 95% that Toyota’s big brake kit uses Brembo pistons, calipers, and rotors. If that’s the case, the TRD kit is awesome. Cost is the only question – I looked on and found the kit for $2300. had a similar kit, but it was twice as much. Based on that quick search and my knowledge of the big brake kit, I’d say that TRD’s part is the way to go. I’m profiling a truck that has the kit and I’ll let you know what that owner says as well.

  7. greg says:

    Sorry. Higher micron level of the filter, the more restricted it can be.

  8. Mickey says:

    TXTee, When you decide for that big brake make sure you have 20″ rims. I’m sure you know this but no one mention it. I do like the TRD brakes. Just can’t afford rims and tires for it also.

  9. Jason says:

    greg – Definitely – makes sense, just wanted to make sure I was on the same page. If a guy wanted to test oil flow rate on a filter, what would be the method you would employ? I’m interested in taking you up on your suggestion and I’m thinking that it would be better to compare filters by material than by surface area (or at least consider both factors instead of just one).
    Mickey – Great point! I had forgotten that.

  10. Mickey says:

    Jason, after my first year with the truck you came out with a brake thread so I did some research and TRD brakes require 20″ rims for clearance. 18″ won’t work with it.

  11. Mickey says:

    Also Jason those are on my wish list when I win the lottery. I keep forgetting to play it first.

  12. Jason says:

    Mickey – LOL! You know, statistically speaking, the chances of winning the lottery (anywhere from 1-10 million to 1-200 million) are almost as good if you don’t play as if you do. I think a 1-in-200 million chance of the winning lottery ticket getting stuck to my shoe sounds pretty reasonable – 🙂
    When I went to engineering school, one of my professors said that “the lottery is a tax for people who don’t know math.” I’m proud to say that I’ve have not bought one lottery ticket for myself since the day I heard that quote.

  13. mk says:

    Agree on the above OEM parts not being as good as aftermarket parts. The good news is these tires, batteries, air filters, crappy door speakers, oil filters, shocks, etc. wear out and can be replaced aftermarket NOT at an overpriced dealership. I can honestly say the stock BF goodrich Rugged Trails on my stock 2007 tundra only last 26K before the tread was nearly to the wear bars. Toyota buys all these parts mentioned in bulk and most are made to last only 3/36K expecting the consumer to run back to the stealership and get ripped off for another crappy set of tires, etc. I am talking about OEM parts like body panels and structural integrity parts that OEM are almost always superior to the much cheaper aftermarket panels/parts.

  14. Jason says:

    MK – We’re on the same page.

  15. mike says:

    it is time for my 99 lexus es300 mileage timing belt / water pump replacement I am concerned about the use of aftermarket vs OEM I have been told the belt on aftermarket is just a good but the water pump is not.What is your opinion.The shop wants 400 more for using OEM,but the cost diff is not the part cost but labor cost.
    thank you for your reply !

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