Does an OEM part mean it was made by the car manufacturer?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

My son's 1993 Chevy Caprice Classic is leaking radiator fluid, and a local garage told us it needs a new radiator. The cost of an OEM radiator was estimated to be $288, plus two hours of labor. I looked on the Internet and found a seller of OEM radiators that would deliver the radiator for a total cost of $193, including sales tax and a lifetime warranty. I asked the guy at the garage if he would install it. He said "yes," but added that if it was from such-and-such a dealer on the Internet, it was a piece of junk. My response was, if this is OEM equipment, why would it be a piece of junk? He just repeated that it was a piece of junk and not worth installing. I said, "Thanks!" and hung up. My question: If it is OEM, does it not mean that it was made by Chevy? -- Tim

RAY: Well, OEM means "original equipment manufacturer." So, it's the same equipment Chevy used when it built the car, whether it was actually made by Chevy or one of Chevy's suppliers. If you're buying an OEM radiator from, it should be every bit as good as the OEM radiator your garage will use.

TOM: Just make sure the ad on the Internet doesn't say "OEM-quality" or "OEM-style" radiator. You want an actual OEM product.

RAY: One reason your local mechanic might be reluctant to install a part you bought on the Internet is because you're completely eliminating his markup. Like all other retailers, auto-repair shops buy their stuff at wholesale and sell it at retail, for a profit. He's probably buying the radiator for $193, too.

TOM: But if he's willing to use your part and just charge you his labor rate, that's great. Keep in mind, though, that if the part does turn out to be defective for any reason, you'll have to pay him another two hours of labor to replace it, even if you get another radiator for free. He'll warranty his own work (like, if he doesn't tighten a hose clamp or something like that), but if the part is faulty, you're on your own.

RAY: One other consideration is whether the place on the Internet is going to be there in three years when you need to use your warranty. While local garages occasionally fold their tents and disappear in the middle of the night, it's less common than it is on the Internet. So, if you're buying something with a warranty on the Internet, we'd recommend that you find the Internet site of an established business, rather than an Internet-only operation.

TOM: But if you're willing to take a little risk, and you have a mechanic who's willing to install a part he's not selling you (or you even want to install it yourself), then you can go for it, Tim. And in this case, you can save yourself almost 100 bucks.

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