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May the Best Parts Supplier Win: “Aftermarket” Parts

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As I continue my “learning” curve in this industry, one of the most intriguing debates I’ve heard is the one involving “aftermarket” parts. On the mechanical repair side of the automotive aftermarket, the term “aftermarket” has nowhere near the stigma it does across the collision repair industry. Often, I’ve wondered, “Why?”

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There was a time in the mechanical repair industry when the term “aftermarket” was revered and held up as the highest quality standard of auto parts manufacturing. Original equipment gaskets, for example, were commonly replaced by aftermarket brands such as Fel-Pro and Victor-Reinz, or the NAPA and Carquest brands. The same was true for filters, with aftermarket brands like Wix, Purolater and Fram dominating the mechanics choice as the part he or she preferred to install during routine maintenance or a repair job.

But now, in certain product categories, the aftermarket brands of the mechanical repair market are falling victim to an increased desire on the part of the installing mechanic to use the original equipment, or “OE” part. This is a curious phenomenon, considering the massive domination of aftermarket brands for so many years. However, it’s fueled by the technological advances that car companies and their parts suppliers have made over the years, mostly with regard to engine technology, electronics and sensor proliferation on the vehicle.

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But still, even as “OE” parts are becoming the preferred choice in a few categories, aftermarket brands and products are as reputable as ever and are still the preferred choice of thousands of parts specialists and automotive technicians across the country. In the collision repair industry, though, my sense is that that isn’t quite the case. It seems unnatural to me, but I understand the complexities involved. And, as far as I know, OE parts suppliers to the collision repair market have operated efficiently and effectively and have adequately met or exceeded the demands of the
market.

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However, the nature of any business and the evolution of any market ultimately play the deciding roles in whether or not industries change. If there’s an unmet need, this industry will also change, and that’s what will dictate whether we embrace (or are forced to embrace) aftermarket parts. As with anything, supply-chain efficiency and manufacturing quality (usually surmised as fit, form and function) will drive the market’s decisions, and not insurance companies.

On the mechanical side, nobody is against OE or aftermarket. But ALL are for installing an available, quality product that will perform in the application at the best available price. Ultimately, I predict, the collision repair industry will evolve to this same set of parts criteria. May the best parts suppliers (be they aftermarket or OE) win!

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