Feb 232013
BMW parts image

image courtesy of bmwparts.co.nz

Anyone who owns an older BMW knows buying the best quality car parts at the best price can be confusing. In this era of global consolidation and cost cutting, it’s never been harder to know how to balance quality and value.

The Truth About Cars ran an excellent piece today about how car manufacturers exploit consumer fears about counterfeit parts. The piece was written by a former automaker PR person who details how manufacturers work closely with law enforcement to stage highly publicized “busts” of counterfeit parts. They do this not to protect the public, but to sow enough fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to ensure that most consumers continue to purchase parts directly from dealers at highly inflated prices:

The real targets of the annual propaganda campaign are not the dumb schmucks who print a Ford, GM, or Volkswagen logo on a parts package. The true enemies are called NAPA, Pep Boys, Autozone et al, commonly known as “the aftermarket.” The objective of the war is to tar and feather them with the same brush, to disturb and to degrade their business (market size approximately $300 billion annually, bigger that the car market) and to shift market share to the OE parts and hence to the bottom line of the automakers.

Here’s a specific example. My 2002 BMW E39 M5 came with Xenon (High Intensity Discharge) low beams standard. The car is now over 10 years old, and those HID bulbs will probably need to be replaced soon. The original manufacturer who supplied the bulbs to BMW is Osram/Sylvania. If I went to the dealer for these replacements, the cost would be over $200 per bulb:

BMW E39 M5 Xenon headlight diagram

image courtesy of realoem.com

However, some easy research online shows that I can get a high quality and more advanced replacement from the same exact company for only $100 for both bulbs, or even less from Philips, another well known and respected manufacturer. $100 vs. over $400, for the same quality bulbs.

A lot of the terms used doesn’t make things any easier. For example, what’s the difference between an original equipment (OE) manufacturer part and genuine dealer part? Pelican Parts is a respected supplier and has an excellent primer here on sourcing quality car parts.

There certainly are some low quality parts out there, and price shouldn’t ever be the sole criterion. As usual with post warranty BMW ownership, the key is to be an educated consumer. If you do a little research, you can often meet or exceed the quality level of the original part and pay far less than dealer MSRP.


  One Response to “Finding Quality Car Parts — What’s the Real Story?”

  1. You can’t always go by what is online. RealOEM lists a spark plug wire set for a e30 M3 at $432.
    BMW suggested list price is $316. I was able to buy it for $190 from a reputable BMW dealer and it fits perfectly. I have found that it has been best to do business with a Dealer that is willing to work with you on price and service. BMW parts warranty is execellent. even if you install the parts yourself BMW will cover the parts and labor for 2 years. this will even cover the diaginoses labor to verify a faulty part.
    Been burned once to often by online and so called “OE or OEM” parts that are not up to par on quality. There are few exceptions, Stewart water pumps for M50 engines and Bistein shocks/struts.
    OEM is not the same as OE. The OE suppliers will make parts that do not meet the the spefications of OE and sell them cheaper and sell them as OEM. Not the same. Bottom line do some research before you buy. Find someone you trust that is willing to work with you.

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