OEM Parts vs. Aftermarket Parts; Which One’s Better for Your Vehicle?

Sometimes, you just need a little extra for your vehicle. Maybe you’re looking for some upgraded headlights, or you want your truck to get some side-steps after throwing a lift kit in it. If that’s the case, there’s one of two ways you can go about it. The first way, is by purchasing OEM parts and accessories through your dealership. The second? Aftermarket parts, which can be bought from third party companies. Just like the ever-lasting battle between buying new or used, buying OEM parts vs. buying aftermarket parts has been a debate that’s lasted for decades – with both sides presenting benefits and downsides.

But, before we wedge ourselves into the middle of this heated argument as the voice of reason — seeing both sides of it — we need to first properly identify what OEM parts and accessories are, as well as clarify why a part would be labeled aftermarket.

What Are OEM Parts and Accessories?

Quite simply, OEM parts are made by the vehicle’s manufacturer. Meaning, these parts that you put on will match the ones that came with your vehicle when it first rolled off the assembly line. This could be anything from an oil filter to an add-on part or accessory, such as bed rails or a performance exhaust system.

Why do you think so many people like taking their new cars to the dealership to honor a maintenance plan or take advantage of a warranty? Because the parts are brand-name, and a certified dealership replaces old or worn-out parts with OEM parts that come directly from the manufacturer. Ensuring that you’re new model vehicle, is getting the right part.

What Are Aftermarket Parts and Accessories?

Aftermarket parts and accessories are any parts for a vehicle that is not sourced from the vehicle’s maker. Most independent garages use them instead of OEM parts, simply because they’re cheaper. Therefore, they won’t have a manufacturer seal of approval (or the brand name) anywhere on the part. Meaning, if you go to an independent garage that uses aftermarket parts, you’re throwing a part or accessory that could come from anywhere right into your car.

Obviously, this could be good or bad. Because of the ambiguity surrounding the part, you have every right to question where it came from. After all, unlike an OEM part, it could either match the quality of the others found on your new vehicle, exceed it, or be of extremely poor quality. That fact remains true whether you’re getting a replacement part or an extra accessory. In other words, an aftermarket performance exhaust could be just as good or bad as the OEM performance exhaust.

Both OEM and aftermarket parts and accessories have pros and cons. But for the most part, the pros of choosing OEM outweighs the pros of buying aftermarket.

Benefits of OEM Parts/Accessories

OEM parts are obtained directly from the dealership, or by ordering directly from the manufacturer on their OEM parts and accessories page. This is the first benefit of OEM – ease of acquisition. If you go to the parts counter at a dealership and ask for any part — from an oil filter to a head gasket — you’re getting an OEM part. There’s no running around to find the right part to fit your vehicle, because the dealership will have it on hand, or can easily get it for you. Meaning, you also don’t have to worry about comparing the quality and pricing of other potential third-party parts. This takes the hassle out of the buying process.

Also, there is a much greater assurance of quality. Since it comes directly from the dealership or manufacturer, the OEM part is guaranteed (except for some rare cases where the replacement part was defective) to work exactly like the part that you’re replacing. If it’s an accessory that you’re adding on, then you know it’s high-quality. This provides you with peace of mind in the familiarity of the brand, along with the part.

Finally, it comes with a warranty, which is a huge advantage in the automotive world. Most automakers will back up their parts with a one-year warranty. So, if anything ends up going wrong with it, you’re covered for a new part. Furthermore, if you get the part repaired at the dealership, then the cost of labor will (usually) be covered by them as well.

Benefits of Aftermarket Parts and Accessories

While OEM parts are easier to find and purchase — because there’s only one brand or type you’re looking for — aftermarket parts and accessories have greater availability. Simply because you can walk into any auto parts store or independent garage and have hundreds of parts to choose from on any given day. Meaning, you also have more options when it comes to where you want to get the part installed.

Of course, this means the price and quality is going to fluctuate from (potentially) even greater than that of an OEM part or accessory to downright worse. You need to shop around until you find a part that’s right for you, and do your research so you know you aren’t getting a part that’s going to break after two weeks. Alternatively, some aftermarket part companies actually reverse-engineer the part, and work weaknesses out. Ultimately, this means you could hit a gold mine, or be stuck with coal.

Then again, if you don’t mind a lesser-quality part, you could potentially get it for cheaper. Aftermarket parts are less-expensive than OEM parts as a whole, but the price will vary from shop to shop, and brand to brand.

They Both Have Downsides, But OEM Wins Out In The End

While both OEM parts and accessories and aftermarket parts and accessories have their downsides, OEM ultimately wins out in the end. Why? You can’t rule out that peace of mind that OEM parts provide. A reality that aftermarket parts fail to consistently provide. Since quality fluctuates, you could very well get stuck with a bad part if you don’t do your research.

Not to mention, buying OEM is so much easier. Just walk into a dealership, buy the part, get it installed. With aftermarket parts, you have to shop around to not only find a good part, but also find a good mechanic to install it. After all, even if the part is good, you could still get a bad mechanic. Making the whole process a lot more complicated — and potentially expensive — than it needs to be.

The downsides to OEM parts? The quality might not be as superior compared to some of the aftermarket versions floating around, which could be frustrating, considering OEM parts are typically more expensive than aftermarket ones. But, OEM parts are still better. Simply because you have a warranty to back them up, something aftermarket parts lack in general: peace of mind.