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Choosing between original and aftermarket car parts — and even used parts of either type — is all about squaring your priorities with your budget.
You’ll have different options depending on the part and the shop. And the best choice will depend on whether you’re trying to keep repairs cheap, restore your car’s appearance after a wreck or soup up your ride.
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Before we get into that, here are the key differences:
Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts match those that came with your car, and are of the same quality as its original parts. They’re also the most expensive.
Aftermarket parts are cheaper, and made by other manufacturers — often several, giving you more options.
Used parts may have a bit of wear and tear, but should be inspected or rebuilt to ensure they’ll work. These are the cheapest option.
Choosing between aftermarket and OEM parts
Your decision will depend on the type of repair and the quality and price of the parts. Always look for parts that come with a warranty, even if they're OEM, so you'll be protected in case they fail.
Auto body repairs
Some aftermarket parts may be OK for auto body repair, but others won’t be as good, says Michael Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA. “There’s a lot of variation in quality.” For example, he says, aftermarket parts often don’t have the same level of rustproofing as original parts, fit and finish don’t match, or panels don't align properly.
If OEM parts are used in auto body repair, the car should look and work exactly as it did before the damage, because everything will match up. OEM parts are also crash-tested, unlike many aftermarket parts.
Aftermarket parts come at varying price points and levels of quality, but because they are cheaper, insurance companies often prefer them. If you want OEM parts but are dealing with an insurer that wants the shop to use aftermarket parts, ask to pay the difference.
“There’s also the option of used parts, depending on the age of the vehicle,” Calkins says. “It may be cheaper than an aftermarket part but still have all of the original quality.”
A used part, whether it's OEM or aftermarket, can really save money on repairs under the hood, so long as it's inspected first and warrantied. And some aftermarket companies reverse-engineer their products to be even better than OEM versions.
For example, many car buffs will tell you that you can get heavy-duty shocks and struts or brake pads that are made of stronger materials. Scan some reviews online, or talk with your mechanic if you’re not sure whether an aftermarket part could be an upgrade.
Adding some extras
If you'd like to modify your ride by adding something like a backup camera or back-seat TV screen, you'll probably be looking for aftermarket parts. Certain aftermarket upgrades could increase your car’s resale value. This is especially true for improvements like a better sound system or alloy wheels, rather than mechanical repairs.
Who provides OEM or aftermarket parts?
The options you’ll have for parts depends on the nature of the repairs and what type of shop you take your car to:
Dealership repair shops will offer only OEM parts — they have no reason to offer a cheaper product from a competitor
Independent mechanics may be able to offer you a choice between OEM and aftermarket parts
Independent garages that specialize in your type of vehicle will likely have both, but with quicker access to OEM parts, including used OEM parts, which can really save you
Auto body shops can offer both, but if your collision repair is part of an insurance claim, the insurer will likely prefer aftermarket parts to save money
Depending on the job, the cost of OEM versus aftermarket parts varies. Whenever you’re given the choice, ask to see estimates for both so you can weigh your options.