Buying Parts - Bitchin' and Advice

OEM - just what does that stand for?  Original Equipment Manufacturer?  I think it stands for Outrageous Extravagant Markup.  

Auto and machinery manufacturers do not build many of the parts that go into their products.  They are supplied by outside manufacturers that obviously change over the course of time, because sometimes a company that produces a given part can go out of business, or a manufacturer will just change suppliers because they had some type of disagreement with the one they were originally using.  At any rate, quite often, whoever makes a particular part is not the same company that was producing that part when the car or machine was first produced.  This makes the term original equipment manufacturer, somewhat misleading.  

Perhaps a better term is “genuine (fill the blank for the brand) part, but if a given part is an “OEM” part or a “Genuine” part, does that mean than it is any better than an aftermarket or “will fit” part.  Not necessarily, and not even probably.  If you ever take the time to read the packaging of an aftermarket part, or research the part on line, you will often see the phrase “exceeds manufacturers specifications”.  That’s just a fancy way of saying that in the eyes of the car or equipment manufacturer, it’s good enough for who it’s for.

Auto and machinery manufacturers are just like you.  They shop around for the best deal they can find.  If they are going to build one million cars, and a different supplier can sell them a part for one dollar less than the supplier they are currently using, it’s a safe bet that they will change suppliers.

I already mentioned how we try to save money by shopping around.  Another way we can save money is by buying in bulk.  This doesn’t work very well with an individual for car parts however.  You probably won’t own your car long enough to go through a couple cases of oil filters.  Manufacturers do however, buy parts in bulk, and their idea of bulk is beyond anything you could use in several lifetimes.  So that leads me to the question:  “How come I can buy an oil filter more cheaply than Kohler engine company?”  I mean they’re buy oil filters a boatload at a time, and I’m just buying one.  

Check it out for yourself.  Go to a store that sells parts for cars and machinery, and you will find that an OEM Kohler oil filter cost about eight bucks.  Then go over to the automotive section and look at the prices of the car oil filters.  Many of them are three dollars or less.  How much is Kohler paying for their filters if the store is charging eight bucks for them?  

It’s even worse with commercial mowers.  I once (and I mean once) bought a hydro filter for my Scag zero turn mower - $36 as I recall.  It was a pretty cool looking filter - white with a “Scag Zero Turn” logo.  After I changed the hydraulic oil on my mower, I examined the one I had just removed.  I carefully peeled off the Scag sticker because I thought maybe I could use it on something else, like the back of the aftermarket seat which replaced the original seat on another one of my mowers, and...   What do you know?  Underneath that Scag sticker, was a NAPA logo and part number.  I couldn’t resist the urge to immediately call NAPA and get a price for that particular part number.  Seventeen bucks.  About half what I had just paid.

Talk about having mixed emotions.  I was feeling pretty good about how I could save money in the future, but I also felt I been gouged by Scag.  Anyway, not long after that I found that Fram had the same filter for about seven bucks.  Now, I was wondering why NAPA filters were so expensive.  I have heard some people ripping on Fram filters, but I have never had any problem with them (or any other brand of oil filters for that matter),  and I have bought a lot of them over the years.

One other thing about oil filters - I always wondered how come there were so many different kinds.  Look the oil filters on a store’s shelves.  There must be at least 100 different part number oil filters of any particular brand that they sell.  Almost all car engines run at an oil pressure of about 30 p.s.l., and many of them at least appear to be about the same size, have the same threads, and same size gasket.  I also often wondered what would happen if you intentionally used the wrong one as long as it fit.  Would anything bad ever happen?  For the longest time I wanted to experiment with this, but it turned out that I didn’t have to.  There is an auto repair shop that I know of ( which will remain nameless), that buys what they feel is the most common type of oil filter, by the case.  When they change oil on a customer’s car, no matter what kind of car it is, if their bulk bought filters fit, they put it on.  They have been doing this for years and to my knowledge, have never had a problem because of it.

How do you find an aftermarket part, like and oil filter, that will work for your application?  It’s easy.  Just look it up in the oil filter manufacturer’s catalog that is usually on the shelf, in the store with the oil filters, or you can look it up online.  You can either look up your particular vehicle, or use the brand and part number of your current filter, and use the cross reference chart which is usually in the back of such catalogs.

Sometimes, these catalogs whether printed or online will not have a listing for the particular application you are interested in.  A kohler engine is a perfect example.  Sometimes there is no part number on the filter, it’s just all black, particularly if it is the original filter from when the engine was new.  What do you do then?  Just call NAPA.  If you give them a description of the engine, they can usually come up with a filter for you.  Then, you just go to NAPA and buy one of their expensive filters take the NAPA part number and cross reference that and buy a cheap filter.

I try to avoid buying OEM parts through a dealer whenever possible.  If they were ten, even twenty percent more, I probably wouldn’t even bother, but the difference is often 100 % and more.  This is a big deal when it comes to pricey stuff.  Once I needed new hydraulic wheel motors for one of my Scag mowers.  The Scag dealer price almost $1000 a piece.  I noticed that the originals still had a White Hydraulics sticker with a part number on them.  Price from White Hydraulics - less than $500 each.

Another way to save money is to go with remanufactured parts, as long as they are from a reputable company.  Prices should be 50 % of new or less.  You can save even more money rebuilding parts yourself, although it’s often going to be hard to beat the price of mass remanufactured parts if you count your time and labor.  Fixing parts that are considered non-serviceable is where you can save the most money.  You can drill out the rivets and replace the bearing on a $50 flat idler pulley for about five bucks.

John Deere, believe it or not, has got some pretty competitive prices on some parts, particularly mower belts.  If your brand-x mower needs a blade drive belt, and you still have the old one to determine the correct length and cross section, (although Deere does not offer belts in inch increments, like aftermarket companies do, dealers do have the ability to check if any Deere belts are the same size as the one you need) chances are, if a John Deere belt is available, it’s cheaper, and better than the one you had before.  I worked at a John Deere dealership in the ‘80’s, and back then most of John Deere parts prices were very competitive.  For small engine parts, it was the place to go.  I’m not sure if this is still true today, but it would be worth checking out.  One thing’s for sure.  If you need a small engine part and John Deere uses a similar engine on one of its products, you can probably get faster through them than anyone else.

As long as we were talking about oil filters, let’s talk about oil.  I’m sure you have all seen this in an owner’s manual at some time - “Use only genuine (fill in the manufacturer’s name) oil”.  What a crock.  Do they expect me to believe that they have their own oil refinery, producing some kind of special oil.  Yeah, they might have some oil company produce an oil according to their specifications, but since most engines of a certain type are fairly similar and made out of fairly similar materials, I doubt that you will receive any benefit from using their oil as opposed to using, you name the brand, oil.

What brand of oil do I recommend?   Whatever’s on sale.  Why?  Because of an oil company’s own advertising.  I remember this Pennzoil commercial from the ‘80’s stating that the oil used in the Pennzoil sponsored Indycar was the same oil you can buy for your car.  That didn’t encourage me to buy Pennzoil.  I figured that if a premium priced name brand oil is good enough for an Indy race car, than any old discount store brand oil is good enough for my car, and like with filters, I have never had an car or equipment problem that was due to the oil I was using.

And for you old guys - remember check out the internet - it’s not just for porn anymore.  You name the type of equipment, there’s probably some company that sells aftermarket parts for it, and you don’t have to be a big time commercial operator to get in on the savings.  From my experience, these companies are just as happy to serve the individual as large companies.  Most of my experience is with commercial mowers and snow plows, but at least with them, you can expect to see savings of 25 - 50 % compared to OEM dealer prices.

Now what about when you need weird stuff, like fine thread metric bolts?  Forget the big box stores.  They stock only commonly sold stuff.  Often you can get these from suppliers that specialize in hardware, but often, they have to order them, and even then, often they only come in lots of more than you need.  What do you do then?  For big bolts and metric bolts, check your local John Deere dealer.  They have as good a chance as any of having one or at least one close to what you need, in stock.  If they don’t, there’s an excellent chance they can order it and have it the next day.  

For small clips and  unusual fasteners, check out Ace Hardware.  The variety of of these at my local Ace store is nothing short of amazing.  The internet is also a great place to find weird clips and fasteners, but remember, you often have to buy them in lots of more than you need and you have to pay shipping.  Those two plastic headlight mounting shims that list for $1.89 ea. can end up costing you about $20, and till the end of your time on this planet, you will have 18 little plastic doohickies that you are never going to use but just can’t bear to throw away.   Don’t ask me how I know.  If you need some stupid little clip or fastener for a car body trim part, and you don’t want to have to buy 100 of them, just go to a body shop and ask them if they would sell one.  If they have one, there’s a good chance they will just give it to you if you ask nice, especially if you have recently been one of their customers.

Last but not least, don’t forget about the junkyard.  Just make sure you are paying fifty percent of new part prices or less.

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