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Afterthoughts About the Aftermarket


2/1/2005
By Jon S. Owens

Ever heard the term "aftermarket"? What does it mean? I've heard of the "after life," and I've had an "afterthought" (or two). But, what is an "aftermarket?"
 

Ever heard the term "aftermarket"? What does it mean? I've heard of the "after life," and I've had an "afterthought" (or two). But, what is an "aftermarket?" Apparently there must be some sort of "before" market. How else could you explain the "after" market? And, if so, what is the "before" market?

I guess the "before" market is what we commonly refer to as the "OE" market. No one calls it the "before" market, so why call us the "after" market? What exactly is it that we're after? I think it's just another term thrown at us by people who don't really understand our industry. Unfortunately, we've allowed it to stick. I see our industry as much more than an "after" market and I'd like to think you do too.

I hear so much discussion these days about "OE" parts and "OE" fit, form and function, and I wonder, what happened? When did it change? It used to be (not long ago) that the so-called "aftermarket" part was the preferred part to use. Now, some professional technicians won't even consider the "aftermarket" part for fear of voiding the warranty, improper fit or inferior performance. Upon hearing this, store personnel run back to the manufacturer of the "aftermarket" part and demand they be supplied with the "OE" part. This trend is occurring more and more these days, and it's reaching the point of having a serious financial impact on parts manufacturers and suppliers of all types.

To understand what I'm saying, you must first understand and accept the facts. Simply, not all "OE" parts are in fact "OE" parts, and not all "aftermarket" parts are strictly "aftermarket" parts. So, what is an "OE" part? And, for that matter, what is an "aftermarket" part? Most parts manufacturers I know supply products to both the "OE" and the "aftermarket." Sure, some supply only to one or the other, but most want action in both markets, and across many makes and models. It would be horrendously inefficient if all repair and service were limited to replacing a part with the exact same part. The point is, if a part fits and performs equal to or better than the part it's replacing, without voiding the warranty, then the terms "OE" and "aftermarket" are inconsequential.

The problem is, not all parts fit exactly right, and most certainly not all parts perform flawlessly, regardless of whether they are installed at the factory or the repair bay. Unfortunately, repair technicians have started to embrace a perceived difference between "OE" and "aftermarket," when the only difference they need to be concerned about is whether a part fits and works, or doesn't. I say we dump the term "aftermarket," and for that matter, the term "OE" should be ditched as well. A vehicle is manufactured and then sold. As soon as it is put in to use, it becomes eligible for service and repair. All vehicles in use should be serviced and repaired by qualified, trained technicians using quality parts and products. This cycle continues throughout the life of any vehicle until it is scrapped. The terms "OE" and "aftermarket" should be obsolete, as they have no use in this context.

There's got to be a better term. My challenge to you is this: Submit to me (jowens@babcox.com) a word or short phrase that best describes our industry. My only request is that you keep it clean. I'll present the five or ten that make the most sense, and we can have a contest to vote on the winner. Even if the term doesn't stick, the exercise alone is a healthy one, if only to help us all identify what we do, the value we add and the pride with which we do it.















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