Are original factory parts better than dealer or auto store replacement parts?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

Are original factory parts better than "dealer" or "auto store" replacement
parts? -- Vince

TOM: Such an elegant, simple, short question. It's too bad there isn't an
equally elegant, short answer to it.

RAY: We can start by saying that the original factory parts -- the parts
that come on your new car -- are usually "good enough," aren't they? I
mean, if you were satisfied with the car when you drove it off the lot, you
should be satisfied with those same parts later on, right? (with the
exception of tires, which we'll get to later).

TOM: And since "dealer" parts -- the parts you buy at the dealership -- are
generally the same parts, or at least the same quality as the parts that
came from the factory, I think we can agree that those parts are acceptable
replacements for any parts that break.

RAY: So if you go to the dealership for parts, you're pretty much
guaranteed that the parts you get will be as good as what came on the car
in the first place. But are they better than auto-parts-store replacement

TOM: In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. Sometimes you can buy exactly
the same parts at the auto-parts store as you can at the dealer, or
absolutely identical parts (parts made by the same manufacturer, but sold
under a different name). There are also times you can buy parts that just
as good as original parts for much less money, like, for example,
suspension parts, tie rod ends, ball joints, shock absorbers, and some
rebuilt starters and alternators.

RAY: One the other hand, there are some parts you can buy for much less
money at the auto-parts store because they're essentially ... what? Cheap
junk. Some spark-plug wires, brake pads, and one-size-fits-all mufflers
fall into this category.

TOM: So how do you know? You don't, Vince. And we'd need a whole section of
the newspaper to list which aftermarket parts were as good as original
parts, and which ones aren't. And believe me, Dear Abby would be on our
case if we bumped her again just to talk about alternator bushings.

RAY: So the short answer, if it's not already too late for that, is that
you can guarantee that you'll get good parts by buying them from the
dealer. But you'll certainly pay a premium for some of them. You can save
money, and get some parts that are just as good from the auto parts store,
if you know what you're doing. And the average guy, like you, Vince, isn't
going to know that.

RAY: So what do we suggest? If you just buy parts occasionally, the dealer
is probably your safest option. If you buy parts more frequently, find a
mechanic you trust and get some advice.

TOM: A good mechanic will have experience with both original (dealer) parts
and aftermarket parts, and will know which ones work well and which don't.
Of course, he may not appreciate you coming in every week and asking him to
review a list of parts for you, but that's between you two.

RAY: And by the way, as we alluded to earlier, one of the few "original
equipment" parts that are not "good enough" are tires. Generally speaking,
original-equipment tires on low- to mid-priced cars are some of the
lowest-end tires available from a given tire maker. So when it's time for
your second set, don't try to match what came with the car. Spend $75 to
$100 a tire and move up in the tire world.

* * *

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