OEM vs. Aftermarket Parts

How much time do you spend thinking about parts? Do you buy solely OEM, or do you only look at aftermarket? Do you know the the difference between rebuilt and remanufactured parts? Using the wrong mix could be hurting your bottom line.

OE (original equipment) is the easiest to understand. These are the same parts that were on the truck when it was delivered to you. There is no question as to the fit and function, and the suitability to the target vehicle. You also know that they have been engineered for your truck and have been tested to meet, or exceed the manufacturers requirements and specifications. If you properly spec’ed your trucks, then the suitability to your application should also not be in question. There should be easy availability through the dealer network in major centers but timeliness could be a problem if you break down in a rural area, or in a state without a large dealer network. Prices should be reasonably similar between different dealers and national account pricing may be available through programs like Freightliner’s Pinnacle, Kenworth Privileges or International’s Fleet Charge.

Aftermarket parts can be a fair bit more challenging. Fit and function should be the same, but the quality could be better or worse than a similar OE part. Some aftermarket suppliers do the same testing as the OE, while others may not do any significant testing at all. Some use the same metal alloys and thicknesses as the originals while others may use cheaper alloys, hollow out sections during the casting process, or make them slightly thinner to reduce cost. Tolerances may be tighter than the OE or might just be “close enough”. The country of origin is not always a way to determine quality, as a “Made in the USA” label doesn’t necessarily translate into a superior part. However there are a lot of aftermarket parts that are just as well engineered as OE and in some cases are better than what the manufacturer specified. To make things even more confusing, manufacturers may have multiple lines aimed at different price points and/or applications. This means you need to spend more time evaluating aftermarket suppliers, and really getting a good handle on your applications. If you are considering a new aftermarket part, consider doing your own testing by running some trucks with your current supplier and some with the new ones. Take a good look at the amount of wear at regular intervals (at a minimum measure and compare them at each PM) and determine a mean time to failure. Also look at any differences in installation time and any different tools required. If the new part lasts longer or is easier to install you may have a better value even if it is more expensive than your current option. At the end of the day the least expensive part may not be the one with the lowest total cost of ownership.

Finally you have rebuilt and remanufactured parts. These utilize previously used cores that then have the worn parts changed to give an “as new” part. Rebuilt parts will replace “consumable” sections, such as the friction material on brake shoes. In some cases you may even get the original cores back. A remanufactured part will get a complete tear down and each component must meet the manufacturers’ specifications. With a brake shoe, the core may get coined or put back into a form to ensure that the arc and measurements are exactly what a new shoe would be. A rebuilt starter may only get a new armature, bearings and brushes where a remanufactured one may also have the wiring rewound and all new contacts installed.

Other considerations that need to be looked at are age of the equipment, where you are in the warranty period, how long you will keep the vehicle, what lanes it runs and the skill level and tooling your shop has. As an example you don’t want to be specifying press in wheel bearings if you don’t have the proper equipment to do the job safely and efficiently.

The optimum mix of these options will vary for each carrier and possibly even between regions or terminals within the same carrier’s network. Part A may be easily sourced in the Northeast but could have limited distribution in California. By only using OE parts, you guarantee warranty compatibility but you may also be spending more on some parts than is necessary. Similarly if you only use aftermarket parts you may save a few dollars to purchase them, but you may not be getting the same useful life as the OE which may result in additional labor expenses and an increased risk of a part failing on the road.

Next week, how to evaluate between the options….