The reputation of aftermarket parts has taken quite a tumble.
There was a time, in the early decades of the automotive industry, when aftermarket parts were seen as the quality alternative to cheap and poorly manufactured OE parts. We offered real solutions to the design flaws that many vehicles had as they left the factories.
Back then, carmakers tended to source the cheapest workable parts they could find in order to increase profits from their volume assembly lines. When those OE parts inevitably wore out or broke down, the aftermarket stepped in to provide quality replacement parts.
Many consumers were willing to spend a little extra for parts that were better made, from better raw materials, and with innovations that corrected the reason for premature failure. This model built a lot of great aftermarket brands.
Unfortunately, that model began to crumble when carmakers realized the profit potential of the service bays and the parts counters. As carmakers improved the quality of the parts, the aftermarket reacted by reducing their prices.
What followed was decades of aftermarket price degradation. And as the aftermarket companies began to source parts offshore and combine part numbers, they lost their edge in quality. Today the OEM part is referenced as the quality standard. In some categories, aftermarket parts became known as low-quality alternatives. The “whiter box” mentality ensured that people would turn to OEM parts if they wanted the repair done right.
But here’s the good news. Recent events give aftermarket companies a chance to regain their reputation for quality.
With tighter configurations under the hood, a lot of repair jobs have become extremely labour intensive. This means quality is more important than ever. When there is six to 10 hours of labour attached to a small part, that part has a story to tell, and we should be telling it.
Government regulations forcing the development of cleaner-burning cars have also put new strain on carmakers that we can take advantage of. With their emphasis on weight reduction, many of their parts are getting flimsier and weaker. This is the perfect opportunity for the aftermarket to get back to the story of improvement. Why install a lightweight aluminum piece when a cast iron aftermarket part will last much longer and perform more reliably?
And, finally, the rapid pace of new technology has made it difficult for carmakers to introduce vehicle systems that work seamlessly right out of the gate. Fundamental design flaws are once again giving the aftermarket a chance to make things right for the consumer.
The bottom line is that we need to collectively do a better job of focusing on quality. Manufacturers must step up their game and we in the distribution chain need to be able to sell the advantages. Service managers and parts professionals alike need to change the conversation from price to features.
The perception of aftermarket brands is ultimately in our own control. For the sake of the independent repair and service industry, we have to get this right. We have to regain our reputation for being the best solution to automotive problems.