Sometimes OEM Parts Aren’t Better Than After-Market
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.
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?
Filed Under: Maintenance Tips