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Generic vs. Genuine Car Parts - What's the Verdict?

All vehicles need maintenance or repairs at some point in time and the consideration of using genuine or generic car parts is a key consideration. Your car might even need some now without your knowing it -- one recent survey showed that 77% of cars need some type of fix. At the more expensive end of these fixes are engine and transmission repairs. Another low-cost but still vital repair is replacing brake fluid. One way to lower such auto repair costs is to purchase generic replacement parts. However, there appears to be a hot debate raging around this topic of generic vs genuine. In an attempt to find a definitive conclusion on this topic it became clear that there are very strong opinions regarding generic vs genuine car parts.
 

Let’s first unpack the definition of the two opposing thoughts:

 

Genuine Car Parts

A genuine part, also known as an OEM (original Equipment Manufacturer) is a car component that was installed in your vehicle when the vehicle was first manufactured. Genuine parts are more expensive than any other types of car because they carry the company logo.

 

Generic Car Parts
When it comes to parts that aren’t made by a vehicle’s original manufacturer, you’re likely to hear two terms: “generic” and “aftermarket.” These technically mean the same thing -- parts made by a third party -- but have very different connotations. Aftermarket parts are typically thought of as an upgrade, something used to enhance a car’s performance beyond market standards; generic parts are simply intended to replace OEM parts and provide acceptable quality. As you’re considering replacement part options, it’s a good idea to keep this difference in mind.

 

Are Genuine Car Parts Better?

Just as when you’re buying name-brand or store-brand products at the grocery store, part of what you’re paying for is name recognition. But unlike when you’re grocery shopping, sub-par parts can increase physical and financial risk significantly. You should also weigh the cost of the repair parts against the value of the car. If you’re driving a standard Honda, it’s probably fine to allow price to motivate your decision. However, if you’re taking your Lexus or any other luxury brand in for a service you may want to pay the extra money as using non-OEM parts might also affect the warranty as well as the resale value of the car. The people who are usually most concerned about getting OEM parts include car enthusiasts, body shop mechanics, and owners of brand-new vehicles.

In an open letter from Les Mc Master (Masterparts) that was published by a major South Africa motoring magazine, in comment on a motor parts survey, he states the following: “It is interesting to note that it is always the car manufacturers who claim their genuine parts to be superior to all others and who constantly denigrate non-genuine replacement parts by, for example, calling them ‘pirate parts’. In this day and age, few product ranges can reasonably be classed as superior to all others with the obvious exception being “captive” items like certain body and suspension components, where no real opposition exists. It is common knowledge that a very high percentage of genuine parts sold by car manufacturers are the same as those sold in their original packaging and under their original brand names by independent parts distributors. Why do car manufacturers keep insulting their customer’s intelligence by claiming otherwise, when they make very few (if any) parts, with the exception of the body?”

The fact that many non-genuine parts are manufactured from superior materials or are assembled with more robust components, is also ignored. There are also some original specifications that embody latent defects, which have been eliminated in after-market branded products. That non-genuine parts incorporate these enhancements is actually more prevalent than one would think, for a number of reasons too lengthy to mention here, yet the car manufacturers imply this is never the case.

 

The Pros and Cons of Generic Car Parts

The greatest advantage of generic parts, of course, is that they’re generally priced lower than OEM parts. You’ll probably also get better availability and a wider selection -- which can be particularly helpful if you’re looking to repair an older car for which the manufacturer has stopped making the parts you need. The downside of generic parts is that most countries don’t regulate their parts industries, which means it’s difficult to judge quality without the brand name to give you some sense of security. Some of these generic parts also won’t come with a warranty.

 

The Pros and Cons of Name-Brand Car Parts

The biggest advantage of paying for OEM car parts is that you can rely on the consistency that comes along with a certain brand. When you use Lexus repair parts as part of your Lexus service, you know you’ll be getting the highest possible quality. You should keep in mind, however, that auto repair shops sometimes give quotes assuming that you’ll want generic parts, and some insurance companies will even require that you pay the difference if you want OEM parts used in an otherwise covered repair.

 

It is interesting to note the wording used in relation to generic parts and particularly the Oxford dictionary definitions of those words, namely:

“Pirate” : a seafaring robber

“Counterfeit”:  made in imitation, not genuine, forged

“Original”: existing from the beginning, not copied

“Branded”: a particular make of goods, an identifying trade mark

“Genuine”: really coming from its reputed source, not sham

Perhaps the continued use by the car manufacturers of the above descriptions to define the differences, is a deliberate attempt to belittle independent replacement parts distributors and is entirely out of context and in fact should not be used for the subject of motor spares. It could be argued that the use of the phrase “genuine parts” is also a misnomer. If “genuine” means to come from its source, then car manufacturers parts must, by dictionary definition, be “non-genuine”. No car manufacturer is the actual source of the majority of the parts they distribute, except for captive items like body parts, which comprise a very small percentage of total parts sold.

Car manufacturers are resellers in exactly the same way as independent parts distributors are because the parts they sell come from independent component manufacturers. ‘Genuine parts’ seldom if ever carry the real manufacturer’s brand mark and as a result, emanate from an ‘unknown’ source. As they are supplied by more than one manufacturer, this hides the true origin from those customers who are brand conscious or loyal to products from specific countries for reasons of national pride. It, therefore, appears that according to dictionary definitions the independent parts distributor is actually the seller of “genuine parts” because their parts are branded and clearly identifiable as to both the source and the origin.

So in conclusion, OEM parts keep the vehicle closer to its original state. However, on the flip side, once you drive your car off of the lot, it's no longer new. So are OEM parts necessary when used parts or aftermarket parts can get the job done more cost-effectively? You might assume that genuine parts will be of a better quality but this may not always be the case, as aftermarket parts may be reverse engineered so money is saved on development allowing the manufacturer to improve quality at a lower cost. Genuine parts may differ from OEM parts only in the packaging. Factor in the price difference which can be up to 70% and those non-genuine parts can look pretty appealing. It is important to remember that cheaper parts may not come with a warranty and you should check the terms of your vehicles warranty when getting it serviced. If you’re concerned about non genuine parts, you could insist that your garage orders in the genuine parts.

So while the old adage “you get what you pay for” is often true, it could also be said that you pay a lot for a name. While price will determine the decision to some, to others the name will most definitely matter.

Ultimately, as a difference in quality cannot be definitively proven, it's up to each person themselves to decide which matters more to them, name or price.