What You Need to Know About Replacement Car Parts

by Paul Gaylo

Whether you spent your Saturday sweating in the garage, completing a DIY brake job, or sipping margaritas by the pool, reviewing your latest auto service bill, you’re likely familiar with the need for replacement car parts. When it’s time to replace something, your options vary. Your car’s manufacturer will gladly sell you a replacement part through its dealer network. You could find the same part from the local auto parts store. You can even try a used part from an automotive salvage yard. Each has its own pros and cons. Here’s everything you need to know about replacement auto parts.

OEM Parts (From the Automaker)

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In the automotive world, OEM means “Original Equipment Manufacturer.” Dealership service departments use these types of parts. They also distribute OEM or manufacturer-approved replacement parts to independent service shops and individual customers. If your car needs a replacement part, an OEM part is the best and lowest-risk option. These are the parts used when your car was originally built, and they are what the dealership uses when it makes a warranty repair.

OEM parts also last a long time. If your original brakes lasted 90,000 miles, and you want the replacements to last the same distance, consider using OEM parts. If the labor cost of a repair is very high, you’ll want a part that will last the longest possible time. This makes OEM parts a good option. Unfortunately, OEM parts can be prohibitively expensive compared to other options.

Aftermarket Parts

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The aftermarket auto parts industry is enormous. These parts are not necessarily manufactured under the approval and supervision of the original manufacturer, but aftermarket parts are a great option for the average car and the average repair. They offer a significant cost advantage; an aftermarket part can cost as little as one-tenth the price of the equivalent OEM part.

You can buy aftermarket parts at either a local store or online, but unfortunately, their quality can be questionable. Some parts are truly OEM-quality, while others are inferior and borderline counterfeit. Prices for the same part vary widely, so comparison shopping is an important exercise. If possible, compare the aftermarket part with the OEM equivalent. Typically, a good aftermarket part will be similar in fit, finish and materials to the OEM part it’s replacing. Consult any local auto parts sales associate for advice on reputable brands.

Remanufactured Parts

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Remanufactured parts are usually OEM parts that have been disassembled, inspected, repaired and re-tested, before they are sold as functioning, like-new replacement parts. Automakers have found that remanufacturing can be more cost-effective than making a new part from scratch, and they pass those savings on to the consumer. These parts are often of near-OEM quality due to the reuse of OEM parts, and dealerships may offer a remanufactured part option. Remanufactured parts are a good in-between value option compared with new aftermarket parts and OEM parts.

Used Parts

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Used or salvage parts are common in collision repair, but they’re also an option for general replacement parts. Since collision events can damage parts that would otherwise last indefinitely, such as a bumper or a fender, an undamaged used part is a good value alternative to a new OEM part. Not only will it have the inherent OEM quality at a lower cost, but some salvage parts also come with a limited warranty. If an OEM replacement part is very expensive and there are no aftermarket options, a good used part may be your best choice.

Salvage yards usually have universal pricing designed to simplify business. This means the cost of all bumpers will be the same, no matter the condition or age of the part. And that price is also usually less than an equivalent aftermarket part. You can get used auto parts at a local salvage yard or online at a site like eBay. Some salvage yards even allow you to remove the part yourself from the salvage vehicle for a discount.

The Bottom Line

You can consult with a mechanic, who will use their experience to strategically choose replacement parts to achieve the best value and performance for each customer. The age of the car, the difficulty of the repair, known deficiencies in OEM parts, the quality of aftermarket part options, and myriad other factors will dictate the best replacement part choice. If you have a choice in sourcing your replacement parts, consider how you use your car, how much you have invested in the car, and how long you plan to keep it. When you review your auto service bill, don’t be surprised to see a mix of part sources and prices—the cheapest part is not always the best option, and the best part for your car might not be the best for your neighbor’s car.

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Paul Gaylo is a lifelong automotive enthusiast, shade-tree mechanic, and engineer for Lockheed Martin. Having personally restored a Morris Minor, crafted a fuel-injection system for an MGB GT, and taken an XJ Jeep Cherokee to the bitter end of its useful life, he has earned a reputation as a tinkerer and curator of old cars.

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