Aftermarket Auto Parts: Boon or Bane?

There's no questioning the popularity of aftermarket auto parts in the US automotive industry. Basically alternate car parts most of which are not made by car manufacturers themselves, aftermarket auto parts compete with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. When an original auto part fails (for instance, your hood strut) and is irreparable, the car owner has the choice – or dilemma – of whether to buy a new part from his car's manufacturer or purchase an aftermarket part. Thus, inevitably, issues of which are more advantageous to car owners, which benefits the industry more, and other related questions and comparisons between OEM and aftermarket parts arise.

With the rise in production of aftermarket auto parts in the past two decades, a non-profit organization called the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) was established in 1987 to test and certify parts used for auto body repairs. Setting rigid standards for aftermarket parts, CAPA's testing process includes an industry-recognized 500-hour salt spray test to indicate rust resistance. Tests on metal composition, screws, chipping and scratching resistance are also conducted. While the founding of CAPA initially boosted the trust in the quality of aftermarket auto parts, many automotive consumers still describe CAPA parts as generally not as good as OEM parts. Furthermore, questions on the credibility of the CAPA certification, despite its supposedly strict standards, still exist.

More often than not, aftermarket auto parts are compared in unfavorable ways to OEM parts. Negative comments / rumors include that these parts never fit, result in increased cycle time due to the extra effort it takes to make them fit, and other quality issues. But the benefits of aftermarket auto parts actually abound. First off, crash tests performed over the years by the critics of aftermarket auto parts have shown that these parts perform no differently than OEM parts. On the issue of hazardousness, it has been found that crash parts, whether aftermarket or OEM, do not affect the safety of a vehicle. Thus, there are no federal safety standards for crash / collision parts, except headlamps and the hinges on the hoods to prevent the hood from going through the windshield in the event of a crash.

When it comes to savings, the consumer wins when it comes to aftermarket auto parts, as such are categorically less expensive than OEM parts. This benefits not only the consumer but the insurance company (which pays for car repairs) and the collision / aftermarket shop owner as well, who is provided with more opportunities to repair when the lower cost of parts keep vehicles from totaling. But the savings work better for older cars. Some aftermarket auto parts can be non-usable for newer car models but are often very useful to older cars. Low cost repairs for older cars with the use of aftermarket parts can be crucial in keeping the vehicle from being totaled. These parts also cause less diminished value concerns for older vehicles.

Fears of warranty mishaps when it comes to aftermarket auto parts can also be thrown in the bin. Warranties on aftermarket auto parts are as good as OEM warranties. When a crash part has to be replaced, any original warranty on that part lapses but the warranty on the rest of the vehicle is unaffected. After a replacement part is installed, a new warranty takes over. Federal law prohibits manufacturer from basing warranties upon the exclusive use of OEM parts.

While both the OEM and aftermarket parts industries continue to develop and smooth out their negativities to gain the favor of the consumers, the competition can only benefit both the purchasers and the industry. As critics have remarked, when there is no competition, the OEM part seller price a part as it would like. But when a product competes with an aftermarket part, it would be priced cheaper than it originally would. It's a two-way process though. If OEM parts were becoming more cost-competitive with aftermarket auto parts, aftermarket parts would have to strive harder to become more quality-competitive with OEM parts. If that believed distance of quality between the two is actually being bridged at present, aftermarket auto parts should still work on gaining the full trust of the public in the fact that they are indeed as good or even better than the original parts.