Volume 12, Issue 6 - November/December 2010


OEM vs. Aftermarket Parts
Auto Glass Industry Experts Weigh in on the Debate
by Penny Stacey


“Don’t let your insurance company pressure you into using aftermarket collision-repair body parts, especially safety-related ones.” This warning appeared in the October issue of Consumer Reports (CR) magazine as a caution to consumers, in light of many recent open discussions about whether aftermarket and OEM parts are of like kind and quality.

The article also followed the recent release of a video by Ford showing a saw cutting through two different bumpers, one made by Ford and one by an aftermarket manufacturer. In the video, available on line at AGRR magazine’s www.agrrmag.com/studio page, an engineer shows that a saw easily cuts through an aftermarket bumper, while the Ford bumper actually dulls the saw’s blades and resists being cut.

CR goes on to urge consumers to go so far as to go back to a repair shop if non-OEM parts have been installed—and warns against insurers that might demand the use of cheap, aftermarket parts. “If your car has already been repaired, check your invoices or ask your insurer to see whether aftermarket parts were used. If knock-offs were used, demand that they be replaced with original-equipment,” adds the report.

While these arguments (and the recent video) often revolve around collision repair parts, the CR warning includes any “safety-related” parts—and we in the auto glass industry are fully aware of the role a windshield plays in a vehicle’s safety equation. So AGRR sought out several industry experts with their thoughts on this controversial subject.

The Differences
The most important question to answer, when it comes to OEM and aftermarket windshields, is this: are there actual differences in the end product? Is one safer than the other, or safer for the end customer?

Many are tight-lipped on the issue; several major U.S. OEM manufacturers declined to be interviewed on the topic.

Guardian Automotive president Mike Morrison offered his thoughts, but advised AGRR magazine there’s no definitive answer.

“We don’t discount [ignore] one or the other,” he said during an interview in late-August (see related story in September/October AGRR, page 30). “We say the OE business is here and the aftermarket is here.”

Chevrolet glass engineer Tom Hagen has a different take on the issue, from a technical perspective.

“I guess, as the OE, I would say if [the glass] meets every requirement on the engineering side, which obviously would be all of the dimensional data, it meets all the solar performance and transmission data, if it meets all the quality standards for distortion, noise transmission and things like that, it would be OE-equivalent,” he says.

But there are other items to consider, he says.

“Having said that, I did leave out all the regulatory requirements such as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” says Hagen. “There is wide separation there. Some are very good, and some are not very good. OE to me sets a very different standard on the parts. I cannot control the aftermarket so I cannot say whether it meets OE standards.”

Industry consultant Russ Corsi, who worked for PPG for many years in the auto glass arena, offers a similar outlook.

“It’s possible [to create an OEE] product,” he says. “The manufacturer would have to get the engineering data and use that data to develop the tooling. That’s the first step.”

But the next step is crucial.

“The inspection process is what’s critical,” Corsi says. “Typically the OEM products have very strict criteria and very tight tolerances. So you can make an aftermarket product, but it won’t necessarily meet the original-equipment specifications.”

And when the tolerances do differ, sometimes the human touch of an aftermarket installer is what makes an aftermarket product still work.

“A lot of OE product is installed robotically on an assembly line,” he says, “but if you have a piece of glass that is being installed in the aftermarket, if the size is a little different, [the installer] can make it work in a way that’s safe for the vehicle and its occupants.”

Corsi explains that windshields are checked on a particular fixture for bend and other tolerances, and uses this to offer an example of differences that could be found in the parts.

“Let’s say the off bend for the original-equipment windshield is 2 mm off the fixture, but the [aftermarket manufacturer] might discover that 4 mm off works just fine,” he says. “Aftermarket manufacturers operate in a different realm of specifications that will still work with the installation.”

“We Choose Not to Use Aftermarket”
When Rich Lutton, owner of Metro Glass in Omaha, Neb., purchased his auto glass business four years ago, he focused mainly on using aftermarket parts—due to price and what he heard from others.

“We didn’t know the difference in an aftermarket and an OEM product, and we thought we had to go with the aftermarket to meet pricing needs,” he says.

But today, Lutton aims to only use OEM parts when possible.

“We choose not to use glass from the aftermarket manufacturers,” he says, “and when people call us we tell them we use OEM glass.”

However, there are some instances where he’s found aftermarket is a necessity.

“When I pull up a 1995 Saturn, and the OEM windshield is going to make it a $500 job that’s worth more than the car, I give the customer a choice,” says Lutton. “We explain everything to our customers …”

However, when the company agreed to replace a windshield in a 1995 Saturn in a recent instance with an aftermarket part, at the customer’s request, he was reminded why he’s chosen to stick with the OEM route.

“We dry-set it and it was terrible,” says Lutton. “We called our distributor and told them to send us a different aftermarket brand and it worked better.”

And what about the customer’s delay? Fortunately for Lutton, who does mostly in-shop work, the customer had left the vehicle at the business, so there was no further interruption for him. But he says he also learned from the experience, that, beyond the OEM versus aftermarket debate, not all aftermarket manufacturers are created equal.

“There are several different variations of aftermarket quality and some are better than others,” he adds.

And though the business has lost some potential customers with his decision to use OEM only, Lutton says it’s paid off in the long run.

“We’ve never looked back,” he says. “We’ve lost a lot of customers, but that’s okay—we feel we’ve gained better customers who are willing to pay more for safety.”

Corsi also says he feels that suppliers that make OE products—but might not make OE across the board—have a different set of tools available to make glass products, and that plays a role as well.

“If you’re strictly an aftermarket supplier, it’s obviously a lot more difficult to make a product to the same specifications,” he says. “You might not have the equipment to meet the specs that an OE can.”

Still, though, Corsi says OE suppliers might not always use the same tolerances for their aftermarket products.

“OE manufacturers often use different or looser specs for aftermarket products,” he says.

The Burden of Proof
While it is up to manufacturers to provide quality products, installers also have a responsibility to make sure the products they
utilize are safe, Corsi says.

“The key is to make sure it’s going to work and that the consumer is happy, and that it’s going to fit properly and safely,” he says. “That’s part of the AGRSS Standard as well.”

But still, he says, manufacturers should take a look at the products in the factory to ensure that fit won’t be a problem.

“Quality manufacturers should trial-install the glass in the vehicles to make sure there aren’t any issues,” Corsi adds.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Please e-mail pstacey@glass.com.

Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR magazine.



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