By Brandon Baldwin
I’m doing this article because this subject has been bothering me. I completely understand that many of us feel that we don’t have the luxury of buying parts at the higher price point to fix our cars or trucks. I understand that there is also the problem from time to time of price gouging. How do you know when this is happening? If you have someone else doing the work, how do you know if you can trust them? Lastly, even if all the rest of what I mentioned here is on the up-and-up, how do you know if your mechanic is competent enough to only be fixing what is the problem, and not what is perceived to be the problem, but then you are buying additional parts because the parts didn’t fix the first problem? ALL of this is a problem. But, today let’s address the first one: cheap parts. We can cover the rest at a later time, if you are interested.
Just like cheap clothes hurts the American economy, so do cheap parts. Have you ever been to a parts store and they give you three grades of parts? Of course there are the cheapest brands, which you may never have heard of, a middle grade, and the highest grade, which you may have heard of the brand. What is the difference? Why can the first one make the same part cheaper? Well, they aren’t! I’ll give you some common examples I see over and over again and it makes me sick.
Example 1: Ignition Coils. Far too many times, people buy the cheapest coil to correct their misfire problems. The cheap aftermarket ones don’t last long, almost never have the same ignition waveform, or the same power as the originals. I’ve seen many buy the cheap coil, and a year later, buy the same one again because it failed. Do you have enough money to buy the part twice and enough money to have the technician install the same one again? It would have been cheaper to buy the right coil the first time! I’ve seen ones that didn’t actually fail (this is the waveform part, meaning HOW the coil fires) but because they operate just a little differently than OEM, the check engine light comes on or it causes the catalytic converter to fail. If you have ever priced a catalytic converter, whew, are they expensive. Therefore, buying anything but at least manufacturer grade or higher is shooting yourself in the foot. Oh, and one more thing: if the technician says “we should replace all of the coils while I have this apart.” Do it. All the coils are the same age. It’s cheaper to have them all replaced at the same time (labor) and you’ll save again in the long run. Again, too many times I’ve recommend this, only to have the same person come back 2-4 months later and tell me that they are having the same symptoms as the first time, and I find it’s another coil.
Example 2: Wheel Bearings. This one is more difficult to determine the difference in parts, so I’m going to tell you to make it easy. It’s the type of bearing and the quality of the metal, plus the quality of the fit of the bearing. Of course, there are the differences between those that have the ABS sensors and those that don’t: price difference. And, there are those that are the entire hub assembly (also called a unitized wheel bearing) vs a press in bearing. But, let’s cover the first part first: the quality. The better quality bearings are typically made with better metal, and with more precision, and with a better style of bearing. For instance, if I can get the tapered roller bearing instead of regular roller bearing, they can take side loads better. In the long, run, they last longer, and therefore, I don’t have to replace a bearing twice. Ever have to replace a pressed bearing? The bearing and seals are cheaper, but it’s the labor that makes up the price. Pressing a bearing leaves room for failure too. I’ve had to replace a bearing that was done just hours ago because the previous tech hadn’t pressed it properly. This isn’t something to play with! Bearings are a safety concern as well. If your bearing completely fails, the tire may lockup or even fall off while driving. Buy the better bearing and have it installed by the most competent technician you know.
There are other examples too, such as air fuel ratio sensors/oxygen sensor (buy OEM only) and PCV valves, and cam phasers.
What it comes down to, especially if you are focused just on your own wallet and not on saving American jobs, is “if you can’t afford to do it right the first time, how can you afford to do it twice?”