For some reason. we love the great BIG arguments. Chicken vs Egg, Ford vs Chevy, Righties vs Lefties. But the really big one for the forklift industry is about replacement parts: OEM vs Aftermarket.
Debate is hot around this topic. Dealers declare that the quality of Original Equipment is unmatched. The aftermarket usually tries to attract customers with prices that few OEMs can match. Dealers seem to require OEM for their own brands, but not for service customers with a different logo on the forklift. Customers and technicians get stuck in the middle. Is there a definitive answer? Are dollars the only indicator of quality? Am I getting ripped off when I buy OEM or am I being robbed of quality when I buy aftermarket? Let’s take a look at what’s involved. Please don’t take offence if you are of one opinion or the other, this is just an attempt to walk through it logically and critically. I also hope to hear your honest opinions afterward. If I have “missed the boat”, kindly let me know. I may update this post with information from the comments, so be sure to subscribe if this topic is of interest to you. So let’s go…
Traditional wisdom is that OEMs are always best, aftermarket is always low quality. Simple, right? Well, maybe not. It actually can be a lot more convoluted than that.
I have personally used both types of parts, and to be perfectly honest, have found mixed results. When it comes down to engine parts or electronics, I have often found the aftermarket parts I received to be a poor fit or inferior finish (Ever used “universal” sparkplug wires?). But that is not a rule. Surprisingly, there are factories that produce parts for both the OEMs and the aftermarket. Sometimes they are indistinguishable. For example, last week I was installing “OEM” spark plugs. They actually turned out to be regular, generic plugs from Bosch, with an OEM Brand label applied over the Bosch label. Were they aftermarket or OEM? Both, I guess. Depends who you bought them from. But those “Linde” stickers apparently made them worth more. This frustrates some parts retailers. Intella likes to point out that Akebono manufactures brake components under “brand names” for the OEMs, and also sells them under private label as aftermarket brands. Some feel that these private labels are unfairly branded as black sheep in the parts world. If you are going to consider aftermarket, check out high quality suppliers like Intella LiftParts.
On the flip side, I often demand OEM parts regardless of cost, because I do find the OEMs are more reliable in providing the right fit, the first time. This is especially critical when you are working with customers in remote locations or with tight deadlines. Two primary advantages of using OEM are that you have a better chance of finding exactly the right parts, and you can rely on them to be good quality.
Price is definitely a consideration, but we need to make sure we are really looking at total cost, not only initial purchase.
In defence of the aftermarket industry, there is a vast range to the quality from junk to excellent. There is definitely “knockoff junk”, and that unfortunately is exactly what most customers want, due to pricing. Cheap seems to be the primary keyword. Often these parts are actually much more expensive in the long run due to poor fit, poor durability, and early failure. In fact, they sometimes damage other components as well. Many times the quality issues are not obvious. Seats may look great, but the frame fails within hours. Water pumps can begin to leak within a year of installation. Leaf chains that have loose pins you’d have to closely inspect to find. Many more examples could be found, but some customers are blinded by dollar signs at time of parts purchase!
However, I have also seen the opposite: well-made parts with excellent, even superior, quality control. For example, with accessory drive belts, the aftermarket has some options that are superior to most OEMs. Some aftermarket ignition coils are well-made with even better mounts and connections. Even simple grease fittings can have aftermarket matches that are better sealing and less likely to leak grease everywhere. There are some aftermarket parts that are actually upgrades. High-quality LED headlights are a common upgrade, as are tire options for specific operating conditions.
Another very real consideration is availability. I have run into situations where the OEM no longer made parts for a particular model. Some old units may need to have obsolete LPG systems changed to newer Impco-type components. Hoses are also a part that is often sourced from a hydraulic shop as opposed to ordering from the dealer.
So can we boil it down to a simple “thou shalt/thou shalt not”? Not really.
I personally recommend OEM. I feel that you can hardly go wrong with that decision as long as there is sufficient life left in the unit to realize the long-term quality payoff.
If you decide to use aftermarket parts, there are some definite considerations to weigh first:
1. Is this a true high quality part, or is it a poor quality “knock-off”? Look deeper than first glance. If it’s not from a trusted source, you are taking a risk. Remember that you are also putting your reputation and customer relationship on the line when you decide to opt for non-original parts. Any failures will be linked to you. If your customer demands a cheap part, they need to be informed that any problems are their own responsibility.
2. Is it really going to save me anything, or will it require extra labor time to make it fit properly? This is especially critical when you have an extended drive to a customer site or an urgent deadline. That small savings disappears rapidly when you go into unexpected overtime.
3. Will it affect my warranty? OEMs have a legitimate expectation to only extend warranty to units maintained as originally designed.
Remember that the final decision should be on quality first, price second. Price alone is not a reliable indicator of quality. This discussion always makes me think about rifles. Several years ago, I purchased a “economical” rifle. However, I had studied specs and compared quality prior to buying it. When I needed to make a 550-yard shot across a frozen field in Northern British Columbia, I was confident in the gun and the ammo. I knew both were good quality, although neither would be considered expensive. The Mule deer took one clean shot and dropped where it stood. My family ate well, and my friends with expensive guns had nothing to gloat about. Hunting story aside, the point is this: Quality is first, brands and dollars are secondary. Just understand that OEMs are usually a safe bet for quality.
Well, this post is going to stir good and bad parts experiences. Tell us what you have seen. Pictures are welcome, send them to: email@example.com and be sure to subscribe to stay posted on the feedback.
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