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Vehicle powertrains: Should you go with the OEM all the way?

One frequently asked question by both truck and car drivers is whether original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts are better than aftermarket parts. Perhaps the better question, however, is: Which option best meets the needs of the vehicle?

While there are pros and cons to both options, most manufacturers, like Daimler, Navistar, and Volvo, suggest going with the OEM all the way and here’s why:

OEM parts obviously were made for specific vehicles. No comparison shopping or price matching is needed. Once a part is ordered from a dealership, that is the exact part that will be delivered. It is a one-stop shop.  

“The main benefit of a single OEM powertrain is integration between the engine and transmission as well as the chassis,” said John Moore, product marketing manager for Volvo Trucks.

“Since the engine and transmission are speaking the same language, designed and developed through the same OEM, it’s easier to develop enhanced fuel efficiency and performance characteristics,” Moore said. 

Quality assurance and warranty options are other factors to consider. There is certainty that the part requested from the OEM will work identically to the one it is replacing and manufacturers typically offer a one-year parts and labor warranty. 

So why would someone consider the opposite route and go with aftermarket parts? It may be all about the money. Owning and operating a Class 8 vehicle comes with a high price. According to a study on carriers’ equipment-related costs, American Transport Research Institute (ATRI) found that repair and maintenance costs per mile have increased by more than 60% to 16.7 cents per mile between 2008 and 2017. 

Drivers therefore may seek cheaper parts. Prices for aftermarket parts are typically lower than those from the OEM. And there can be more options available with aftermarket parts.

While the prices may be lower and the variety wider, aftermarket parts are rarely sold with warranty coverage. Lastly, aftermarket parts are typically made with much lower quality materials since they are not made by the manufacturer and lack the same assurance of functionality that OEMs offer. 

According to many manufacturers like Navistar, Volvo and Daimler, going with OEM parts can improve performance, fuel efficiency and driver safety. 

Jim Nachtman, heavy duty marketing director for Navistar, said, “To maximize fuel economy and performance, the engine, transmission and vehicle need to be designed to operate together as a system. An integrated combination has been optimized for those over-the-road vehicles.” 

The radiator and charge air cooler, for example, have specifically been designed for the needs of the engine, reducing fuel consumption, while improving serviceability, according to Nachtman.

Nachtman also noted that many customers experience significant benefits in terms of having a single manufacturer to address concerns when it comes to service, parts, warranty coverage and more.