Why Bad Drivers Prefer Aftermarket Car Parts

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They're cheaper, sometimes better, and easy to find. If you get into a fender-bender, don't blindly head to the dealer.

Do men or women make better drivers? I’ve always smugly maintained a slight edge over my wife in the debate, but as she points out: I’m not a driver without blemishes on my record. She’s right.

Several years ago, I got slapped with only my third moving violation in 30 years of driving – and the only one since we were married 15 years ago – for making an illegal left turn.

Then again, she got hit with a ticket for the very same offense not long after I did.

More recently, she put a nice dent along the side of our minivan after brushing against a mailbox while backing out of her friend’s driveway. We chuckle about it now, but I can assure you, it wasn’t funny then.

Unfortunately, my days of having the upper hand in the who’s-the-better-driver debate came to an end last week after I got into a car accident on my way home from work. Yep.

To make a long story short, I ended up rear-ending a car on the freeway. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.

Luckily, because the speed at impact was not much more than 10 mph, the only appreciable damage to either car was on my 1997 Honda Civic: a slightly bent hood, a cracked grille molding, and a broken headlight housing bracket.

Assessing the damage

Of course, I called my handyman father-in-law, Tony, who also happens to be a retired car mechanic. I was hoping he’d tell me we could simply bend the hood back into place, but he recommended we err on the side of caution and get a new one.

So I called the Honda dealer to see how much it would cost to replace the damaged parts. Here’s what I was quoted…

  • Hood ($387.30)
  • Passenger-side headlight assembly ($232.00)
  • Grille molding only ($38.30)

With tax, the total bill came to $719.25.

Tony then suggested we go online to see if I could save a little money by finding suitable “aftermarket” parts, which is just another term for parts that are not made by the original manufacturer. Anyway, here’s what I found…

  • Hood ($129.64)
  • Passenger-side headlight assembly ($43.54)
  • Complete grille assembly ($43.00)

I bet you can guess which parts I ended up buying. But I decided to pass on the aftermarket grille because it looked nothing like Honda’s stock version.

Still, the aftermarket prices were so much cheaper than the dealer’s OEM parts, I went ahead and tacked on a driver-side headlight assembly for another $90. Why it cost almost 50 bucks more than the passenger-side assembly I have no idea, but I really didn’t care considering the money I was saving.

After taking a few minutes to find an online coupon code that knocked $25 off my bill, the bottom line was just $257.59, tax included.

Comparing OEM and aftermarket parts

As my recent experience shows, OEM parts are extremely expensive. A study by the Property Casualty Insurers of America (PCI) found that it would cost $73,049 to rebuild a 2005 Ford Mustang GT with car company crash parts — three times what it cost to buy the car new — and that excluded the cost of paint and labor.

Thankfully, aftermarket parts help keep repair costs down by ensuring a competitive market exists for consumers, which is why most insurance companies advocate using them.

According to Edmunds, there are pros and cons to both aftermarket and OEM automobile parts. For example, in addition to being less expensive, aftermarket parts are widely available and can be found from a multitude of suppliers. They also offer quality that can be either on par or, ironically, superior to their stock counterparts. However, Edmunds also cautions consumers buying aftermarket parts to be on guard for spotty quality.

Some aftermarket parts may not come with a warranty, although many do. In my case, all the parts I purchased came with a one-year guarantee — which is exactly what Honda offered on their parts. The only difference was that Honda’s guarantee also covered their labor.

If you’re making collision repairs, Edmunds recommends using only manufacturer parts because some body panels may not fit properly or have improper crumple zones. That being said, if you choose to go that route, keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for insurance companies to make you pay the difference between the aftermarket and OEM prices — and that can be a significant amount of cash.

On the bright side, the nonprofit Certified Automotive Parts Association(CAPA) argues that all aftermarket parts certified by them are just as good as their OEM equivalents because they’re thoroughly tested to ensure they “fit, perform and last the same as the originals.”

Ultimately, the final decision is up to you. Either way, it’s another one of those debates that doesn’t look like it’s going to be settled anytime soon.

Stacy Johnson

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