OEM Parts and Accessories vs. Aftermarket
Car guys—true, dyed in the wool, engine-oil-coursing-through-their-veins types—will undoubtedly have an opinion when it comes to buying OEM vs. aftermarket parts. This article is for the rest of us, those who might be more focused on convenience, or cost, or resale value, even if at the expense of performance or customizability.
If you fit into one of those buckets, then this article will help you decide if OEM parts and accessories are your best option.
What is an OEM accessory?
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which means that it is a part or accessory that was made by the same manufacturer as produced your vehicle. In other words, installing an OEM accessory or part is replacing like for like—the parts are identical to those in your car the day it rolled off of the assembly line; accessories were designed and manufactured to provide a perfect fit and allow for easy installation. That is why we say an OEM accessory provides a “better than custom” fit.
OEM parts and accessories are typically available through authorized dealers, only. The internet has made it much easier to acquire OEM parts as, rather than having to physically go to the nearest dealer, sites like ours are able to ship anywhere throughout the United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico). That has been great for us and for our customers, as Bernardi Parts makes it a point to provide the best prices online.
OEM accessories also come with the added benefit of warranty coverage. Typically covered for up to a year and manufactured to the same exacting standards that formed your performance Audi in the first place, the added peace of mind might be enough on its own to warrant the slight premium you’ll pay.
How are aftermarket accessories different?
Aftermarket accessories are manufactured by a third party. Often, manufacturers will reverse engineer a part. Sometimes, in doing so, they’ll even improve upon it.
What typically happens, however, is that a part or accessory is manufactured to fit several similar models. This leads to a trade-off—do you pursue a perfect fit and easy installation, potentially paying a premium, or do you research aftermarket parts providers and hope that you don’t always get what you pay for?
Aftermarket parts might be slightly cheaper than and highly similar to OEM parts, but they will never provide the same perfect fit and easy installation for the money you’ll save. Add in the fact that many aftermarket parts do not come with the kind of extended warranty coverage as their OEM counterparts and you have pretty compelling reasons to stick with Audi-backed products.
When do you have to use OEM parts?
It is rare that anyone can tell you what parts you have to use in your car, but there is one scenario any driver should be aware of.
Lease agreements often include a stipulation that any parts needing to be replaced must be OEM. Aftermarket parts can negatively impact resale value, and lease agreements therefore will, for safety reasons, require any parts needing to be replaced be original equipment. Since most lease agreements come with an option for a maintenance plan at the dealership, this may not come up often but is important to know if it applies to your vehicle.
When should you use OEM accessories?
OEM parts have their own selling points—any time you are installing something having to do with the safe operation of a high-performance vehicle, you likely will be better off going with the part designed and manufactured by the company that best understands the stresses and requirements that the part is subject to.
What about for accessories, though? Does it matter as much?
The primary advantage of OEM accessories as compared to their aftermarket equivalents has to do with intention. These accessories—whether you’re shopping for a perfect color-matched Brilliant Red spoiler for your 2016 A4 or floor mats for the same—are designed, manufactured, quality-checked, and sold with the assumption that they will provide a better than custom fit.
It is easy to find a third-party roof rack, or to save a few dollars by buying generic floor mats. And, true, the styling and detail work may not be enough to change your mind. What will matter to most drivers, however, is that perfect fit. To not have your floor mat bunch up underneath your accelerator on the highway, to not have to have a body shop modify your trunk lid to install a third-party spoiler—OEM accessories give you the freedom to customize your car to your tastes by removing the potential of a poor fit.
When do aftermarket parts make sense?
Aftermarket parts do make sense in certain scenarios. In particular, if you have a mechanic whom you trust, or if you have experience maintaining your own cars, you can save yourself a few dollars.
That requires, however, that you know the good brands from the cheap because, as in all things, you often get what you pay for. There are some outstanding aftermarket parts brands, just as there are some any car guy worth his salt would caution you to avoid no matter the cost savings.