Buying Quality Auto Parts and Safety on the Road
On the Arrive Alive website, we emphasize the importance of vehicle roadworthiness and maintenance. The auto parts industry plays a significant role in enabling vehicle owners and mechanics to keep vehicles in roadworthy condition!
But what are the risks, pitfalls and advice we need to know when searching for safe auto parts?
We decided to approach the experts from Goldwagen with a few important questions:
What is the difference between parts referred to as OEM and “White Box” parts?
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts are manufactured on behalf of the new vehicle brands manufacturer and are branded with the OEM’s name, logo and part number. Most OEM parts are not manufactured in the house but outsourced to reputable manufacturers who are able to comply consistently with standards set by the OEMs and which meet, where required, the legal standards set for that product. This is very important with safety-critical components such as for example, brake pads and discs. Any manufacturer wishing to supply to OEMs must meet very strict standards and will be subject to a full audit prior to being approved. In some cases an approved manufacturer may have a global supply requirement, making it even more important that the highest standards are adhered to.
In the case of “white box” parts, there should be a distinction drawn between branded parts of high quality (still meeting standards) which may be supplied to an OEM as part of their dealer service centres (where packaging may not be critical) for fitment in normal dealer servicing, and non-branded parts of dubious origin which do not meet legal or OEM standards and are sold unbranded in plain packaging. The latter parts can be very dangerous to fit, particularly in safety-critical areas! Always make sure that you purchase parts from an authorised dealer workshop or through a reputable Aftermarket retail store. It is also preferable to stick to quality brands, with a long heritage and with a strong national/international footprint as this will limit risk. Remember also “goedkoop” is duurkoop!!
What are the biggest risks of buying a used car part instead of a new replacement part?
All parts in a car form part of the “system” and many rely on symbiotic relationships with each other. An example may be braking and damping systems. Weak/worn shock absorbers will have an impact on braking performance and pose a significant risk to safety. Similarly, not replacing an oil; filter, when due for service, with a high-quality replacement, will result in engine damage.
Buying used parts, while often attractive from a pricing point of view, may solve a short-term problem but may also contribute to the early failure of other components. Clearly used parts will not have a warranty and the “cheaper option” often works out much more expensive!
What is the best way to solve an electrical part failure in my car?
The OEM and many reputable aftermarket workshops have diagnostic tools and computer systems that can be connected to the ECU (engine control unit). These will indicate if there are fault codes that have to be given attention to. No electrical part can be replaced or properly diagnosed if it has not been done with the assistance of a diagnostic computer connected to the vehicle's ECU. Fault codes have to be reset and erased before the replacement part will work as it is designed to. With modern cars becoming more complex and computer controlled by the car ECU there is very little that the motorist can do to solve any fault code issues. This is a real “do not try this at home” operation!
Are there specific parts that are more important to buy new and to avoid buying as used parts?
In general, it’s never a good idea to buy used parts for a car. This is particularly important in safety-critical areas such as braking, suspension and drivetrain and the engine. It may be OK to buy a used rear-view mirror but not such a great idea to buy a secondhand timing belt!
How can a prospective buyer assist the seller of auto parts to find the correct part when he walks into the store?
Knowing what vehicle, you require the parts for is crucial. The brand, model, manufacturing date and engine capacity (CC) will help the parts salesman to locate the correct part. In most cases, it will be important to have the vehicle identification number handy (VIN as displayed on your license disc). This provides the necessary information to verify parts are correctly suited to the specific vehicle.
Why are my brakes squealing after brake pad replacement?
Brake pads are part of the braking system. When considering squeal issues, it is important to consider a number of issues, such as:
- Are the correct brake pads fitted?
- What is the condition of the brake discs (warped, worn, previously overheated, badly scored, cracked Etc)? In modern cars with vented discs, it is often not possible to skim the discs. This should always be approached with caution as skimming reduces the ability to transfer heat and can contribute to early failure and reduced braking performance.
- When last was the brake fluid changed? (normally every two years is necessary as brake fluid is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture which reduces braking performance)
- What is the condition of the brake callipers and piston seals?
- Have all accessories been replaced (guide pins, anti-squeal shims, nuts and bolts)
- Are the disc and pad clean when fitted and not contaminated with oil or grease)?
- Have you checked that both the front and back braking system components are equally in good condition?
- If you tried to “bed in” brake pads with a few (or many!) high-speed stops then you have probably heat damaged the new pads, causing glazing (which contributes to squeal) and will have to start again. Always bed in gently with normal braking for the first 150 km.
Why do the retailers of parts sometimes refer to combination parts?
As mentioned, a car is a complex set of systems, many of which are linked. An example of this is the timing system. This can be chain or belt-driven but one should always consider components which are part of the whole system. It’s never a good idea to change only the timing belt on a car with high kilometres without changing the pully and other components subject to wear as these will be the next to fail, often with much larger (and more expensive) consequences!
Consider a pully failure after replacing a serpentine belt…it’s not about the pully only but could quite conceivably result in damage to aircon compressors, water pumps, power steering pumps, oil pumps and other components which may be driven by the same belt system.
How important is it to enquire about a warranty or a return policy for the part I Buy?
In terms of local Consumer Protection Act legislation, all new parts must have a minimum six-month warranty and all used parts a three-month warranty. While it is unusual for a new part to fail, this can happen from time to time. A warranty and return policy gives the consumer peace of mind that there is a fair mechanism to deal with any failure. It is worth reading up on your rights as a consumer in terms of current legislation in order to understand how claims and return processes should work.
Remember also that the supplier has rights in terms of the law to request information relating to the purchase, fitment and use of the parts in order to validate a claim as legitimate. A claim for a replacement clutch may well be rejected if the car was used for racing or had been modified in other ways resulting in power output exceeding the clutch's design capabilities (as an example).
What can we do to avoid buying a fake auto part?
While not always the case, a “white box” part could be either of very low quality or a complete fake. The general rule to follow is to purchase parts from an authorised dealer of a reputable aftermarket parts supplier. The chances of buying a counterfeit product will be extremely limited in such a case.
Sometimes these products can be referred to as “pirate parts” but it is important to distinguish the term separately from quality replacement parts, sold by reputable companies, carrying a warranty and branded (often) by companies that have been in business for longer than a century. In many cases, high-quality replacement parts are of a very high standard and have sufficient traceability to validate them as genuine through the use of security measures such as holograms and QR codes which can be used to ensure a genuine replacement part has been purchased. If in any doubt it is always useful to check with a reputable aftermarket parts Company or workshop before fitment.
Fake parts, branded or not, will often be of inferior materials quality and specification (that’s why they are cheaper). They are often “reverse engineered”, dimensionally incorrect and unable to handle the role for which they are used. The only (initial) benefit to the consumer is the price. The long terms costs can be significantly higher, even to the point of causing severe injury or death, depending on safety criticality.
Would you recommend that qualified mechanics install specific parts rather than make it a DIY job? Which parts would this be?
The engineering and manufacturing of engines have evolved to such a stage that more is demanded from smaller engines (as one example). Gone is the day when a pair of pliers and a shifting spanner will do the job. Specialised tooling is required for almost all major components like wheel bearings, clutch and flywheel, A/C pumps and timing components.
These days even spark plugs must be torqued to specific measurements to ensure that the inlet spray of fuel does not extinguish the spark in the combustion chamber. So yes it will be better to have a qualified technician do repairs on the newer “full of technology “ vehicle on all mechanical work and the DIY will be for smaller jobs. The older generation cars 2010 and older can still be a good time for DIY with the proper know-how.
DIY jobs are possible with older vehicles but the installation of parts (even service lines such as spark plugs, filters and brake pads) on newer ones often requires special service tools and/or the use of computer diagnostics to install and reset. It is definitely not recommended that one tries to do an engine overhaul on a modern car as the risk of failure (or even completion of such a repair) is significant and could negate any savings achieved from a DIY attempt.
Which factors should be considered when checking the seller's reputation/ reliability?
It is really important to satisfy yourself that the store/workshop offers a high-quality service. In general, Franchised parts stores and workshops will offer a higher level of parts quality and service than smaller stores. The parts store or workshop choice should not be done in isolation, however, always consider the quality, heritage and standards adherence you will find with well-known brands (many of whom are internationally recognised). It may seem complicated but doing some research and asking the right questions will help you make an informed decision and lead to a satisfactory outcome.
Can South African buyers go online to search for auto parts? If so, what would your best advice be?
With the trend of more online purchases, it would seem obvious that buying car parts online is a viable option. This may be the case with a set of wiper blades (for example) but pretty much anything more complicated requires very good part number validation (using an OEM number, where available and photographic validation) before making a purchase.
There are often changes to components as the vehicle manufacturer releases newer versions of the vehicle. An example may be where the braking system Is upgraded, resulting in design changes to the calliper, brake disc and brake pads. Not knowing on which version this changed, and when, may well lead to purchasing the incorrect part with the resultant frustration of returning the part purchased online, with (in some cases) the risk of not obtaining a full refund.
[A word of appreciation to the experts from Goldwagen for the assistance received]