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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

When it comes to old cars, aftermarket parts can be a crapshoot

Back in 2019, I wrote a piece about replacement parts, detailing the differences between what was on the car when it was new, Genuine/Original Equipment (OE) parts you buy at the dealer, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), aftermarket, and New Old Stock (NOS).
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/when-it-comes-to-old-cars-aftermarket-parts-...
51 REPLIES 51
relton
Advanced Driver

Good points about aftermarket prts.Somtimes they are the only parts you can get, though.

I recently had a power steering pump, from a reputalbe supplier that I had used before, on my Chevy start to leak about a year after installation. The warranty had expired, so I had to buy a new one.

But even dealer supplied parts aren't immune to problems. An extreme example is my alternator saga with the Lincoln Mark VIII. Ford parts repeatedly failed, 8 in 1 year, stranding me in Chicago, and in Erie PA. I sold the car rather than risk interrupted trips.
Sajeev
Community Manager

I had the same Mark VIII alternator issue (because of course I did!)  even the Ford replacement alternator (reman) left me stranded once. Now I have a good alternator (good enough) built by a local shop and I have a spare one from the parts store with a lifetime warranty that sits in a box...and that box goes into my trunk when I go on a road trip.  The box got a little bigger now, as it has two spare VCRM modules...you'd do the same thing if you still had yours. 

hyperv6
Racer

There are a lot of variables in play here.

First off no part is always 100% perfect. You will at times get a defect.

Second often the mfg may mor may not make a difference. Many parts are made overseas even OE parts. How well the mfg oversees the mfg there often is a direct link to the quality of the parts.

Third in some cases where the stock part may have a known defect some mfgs will make replacements that are better. Buick had a plastic intake that was known to crack. A aftermarket mfg sells a replacement that was engineered not to crack.

Finally some cars are known for issues. Many imports and domestic cars have histories of electrical p, rust and other quality issues. Often a new part is not going to fix this OE design issue.

Be happy if you can get any part as many are just not out there anymore. Or if you find it it could be NOS and hold more value than gold.

As a whole things while not perfect they go are better than they used to be.

The only real bad thing is so many cars are scrapped early now it is harder to find good junk hoards with older cars anymore.

Also with more electronics, plastics and complexity restoring modern cars will become more difficult. You can’t print everything.
elldorado2000
Detailer

Many cars are scrapped early because of the very reasons you mentioned. Can you imagine going through the horror of replacing a fuel pump on a 80s Camaro (if you haven't done it, you owe it to yourself to live that horror) getting a bad one and faced with the reality of doing it again? You are either cutting a hole in the floor or you are scrapping the car.
CitationMan
Gearhead

New cars getting more expensive, and now old cars getting harder to repair (usually due to the electronics) is going to wreak havoc on the mobility of lower income people in the near future.
Swamibob
Technician

Rob;

I'm of the opinion that you're problem isn't really the age of the used cars, you prefer to drive as daily drivers, rather it's the brand... 🙂
Oh, I'm only joking! Really, I'd say it's more of an age problem, in that your daily driver isn't old enough. My daily driver is a 1964 Chevelle 4-door with the 194 six cylinder. I've updated it with disc brakes and a 2004R overdrive transmission, to make it more drivable at modern highway speeds, the only maintenance I've done is a tune up, many years ago, an alternator (easily found at nearly all auto parts stores across the US and a voltage regulator. I wonder if much the same could be said of a BMW from the 70's or maybe the early 80's?
elldorado2000
Detailer

The way politics are going, your car is going to be worth a fortune. The big three will probably be immune to unavailability of computers for a while, due to their large number of production, but there are already stories of exotics (Ferrari comes to mind) where computers are scarce or not available. You end up with the equivalent of an expensive paper weight.
cyclemikey
Detailer

I can see it now - a whole cottage industry springs up to produce kits to retrofit ANALOG control and ignition systems to get those cars back on the road.. Hilarious.
gyashko
Intermediate Driver

I had much the same thought. It has always seemed insane to me to make major underhood parts out of plastic, given that we KNOW what happens when they're subjected to heat and the passage of time. On the other hand, my livelihood doesn't depend on people replacing their old cars...
Doug42
Intermediate Driver

I do not know the mileage but how long of a road trip are you willing to take. Your 1964 is fifty seven years old. Many metal components are that old such as axles and bearings.
FloridaMarty
Instructor

If it ain't broke.....
Air_and_Water
Instructor

...it soon will be. It is an old BMW after all!
Bunka
Detailer

There is an old truism: If it aint broke, fix it till it is.
Jneal3
Pit Crew

Even buying parts directly from a dealer are no guarantee; some OEMs have engineers assigned to spec’ing replacement parts for 5+ year old vehicle programs who have zero idea what engineering went into the original parts, how they’re supposed to actually function within the whole system, and end up choosing parts based on the simplest requirements (thread size, geometry, etc) - think shocks. For older vehicles, the only real incentive is cost - who will supply the OEM with the part that’s ‘close’ at the lowest cost. Minimal if any consideration given to function and quality.
Miketheump
Intermediate Driver

If you think that was a headache I drive an 81' DeLorean, radiator up front and 30 feet of hose and metal pipe for cooling system and barely enough room to get under it if something goes awry as it did on 2 occasions. Replaced all the hoses after the second time and did a water pump, which takes over an hour of labor to get to, if you know the intricacies of how. Did water pimp twice due to leak from gasket on backside housing, lot of work for minor problem. I feel for you and in my case, I must deal with DMC for parts, there really are no aftermarket items I trust, I used Gates hoses but that's something I feel comfortable with. Enjoy all your articles and know the feeling of self repair that is satisfying as well as frustrating.
DaveA
Instructor

I owned a DeLorean for several years and did quite a bit of work to it. Keep in mind that the PRV engine was used on a lot of Volvos, and your local Volvo dealer is a good alternative to the DMC franchises (which tend to sell aftermarket Volvo parts made in China!).
If you’re really interested in high quality DeLorean parts, check out DeLorean Performance Industries. They sell a lot of American made parts. They also custom fab a lot of stuff, like water pumps and stainless steel frames!
Miketheump
Intermediate Driver

I bought some custom fab parts from SpecialT auto, a few were great, the water pump not so, it had a lifetime guarantee, but the owner died and there went the lifetime warranty, the need to do water pump now a third time with brand new parts from DeLorean. No more having to do same job more than once with questionable parts. Would rather be driving than wrenching.

under_neath
Pit Crew

The most important question Rob asks is “ Can I afford to continue to drive this car?” I would answer “No”. DIY is great but unless you consider replacing parts your hobby, you are wasting your money. I would posit that ANY European car with more than 150K miles is an excellent candidate for retirement. Realizing that I am in the lion’s den and baiting the beast, I see my answer as obvious. Do the math. What is the value of your cherished euro-ride? What percentage of the value of your car is a $500/$1000/$2000 parts bill/repair labor. What value is reliability? What is your time worth? Sell the damn thing!
LittleCarBigSky
Intermediate Driver

I think validation of your opinion can be seen on the road. How many European imports more than a dozen years old do you see on the street being used as daily drivers in any proportion to the numbers sold? Not that many, and those that are are due to deep pocketbooks, determined owners like Rob, or just sheer will. Very few own and drive these as "beater" cars. Unless you're a determined gearhead with the skills, who could afford to?

It's hardly a new phenomenon. 30 years ago I owned a 12-year-old Toyota and my best friend owned a BMW 3 Series that was a few years newer. Our clutch slave cylinders gave out at the same time. I went down to my local auto parts place and walked out with a replacement for about $15 and had it installed in about 20 minutes. My friend had to get his shipped out from Germany along with some sort of tool that was required to complete the task. Weeks waiting and literally hundreds of dollars. (in 1991) I drove the Toyota for another decade (and well over 250,000 miles) until I finally gave it away as superfluous. My friend abandoned his BMW long before that.
CitationMan
Gearhead

Can't remember who said this, but now in the junkyard the German cars are 10 years old, the American cars are 15, and the Japanese cars are 20+ years old. The Germans in particular are in the business of leasing, not selling, so the first owner doesn't care about the car's complexity, the second owner buys as CPO, the third owner is the unlucky one. That's why they use all those plastic parts that break, the car just needs to make it to owner #3, who they don't care about.

Next time some car manufacturer touts their sustainability, just laugh, because their car in the junkyard in 10 years proves this to be false. The new BMW X5 PHEV has an 8 year warranty on its batteries. A new battery pack costs $29,000, so it will be worthless and in the junkyard after 8 years. Is that environmentally responsible?

LittleCarBigSky
Intermediate Driver

Salient observation. Don't know if this is still the case, but I do remember that before the '08 meltdown roughly 3/4ths of BMWs were leased. Mercedes is probably similar. The owner 10 years out isn't a consideration. Since it's probably a salvage yard.

A marketing advantage to this cynical approach is that close to 100% of these cars you see on the road appear to be in like new condition. Because they are. You almost never see a sorry-looking "beater" BMW or Mercedes.
Most don't last long enough mechanically or economically to look road-worn. I think this consciously adds to the "prestige" of the brand.
CitationMan
Gearhead

I just watched the Savage Geese video on the new MB S-Class, and it has so many layers of tech, most of it unnecessary, they called it the disposable $100k car. 

miata93
Advanced Driver

I recently bought a Mazda 3 Turbo. I call it my poor man's Audi A6. I went to the Mazda 3 owners forum website and was disappointed. I expected to find all of these excited owners of new Mazda 3s. Instead 90% of the postings were about how to keep 12 year old beaters on the road. When I thought about it, I said hey this might not be so bad.
DaveA
Instructor

Just because the battery has an 8 year warranty does not mean that it only lasts 8 years.
CitationMan
Gearhead

If BMW is only confident for 8 years, that’s my limit, too.  Who wants a used car with a potential $29,000 repair bill?

Air_and_Water
Instructor

It's all about how long it takes to put a modern car together. I mean, it always was to a point, but fuel fittings that 'click' together with no tools is much faster on an assembly line than tightening worm gear clamps. That's great for the manufacturer, but on a 10+ year old car those clamps, and 1,000 other plastic quick-fit parts are getting brittle, so when you work on the car problems inevitably arise. Cars from the '60s don't have those issues. They certainly do have their own, but not those particular issues.

In a perfect world I'd have the safety and reliability of a modern car, the visibility, visceral feel and ease-of-service of older cars. That's a tough combination to come up with, though. Okay, it's just about impossible, but a man can dream, can't he?
Mxfrank
Pit Crew

So here's the fallacy: the "made in" designation really doesn't have much meaning. It only tells you where the last assembly was done, not where the parts were actually made. So you may buy a "made in Germany" sensor, and all it may mean is that the o-ring was installed on the sensor body in Germany. The o-ring may have been made in Malaysia, and the sensor in China. And there may be nothing wrong with that. The assumption that Chinese parts are all cr_p is just that---an assumption. The quality of the part is determined by the QA process of the manufacturer. Anyone can do it well, or poorly. The Gates hose may be a better product than the Asian hose with the German label.
AG1962
Instructor

“More than that, for 35 years my buying habits have been predicated on the idea that I don’t need a new car or a five-year-old car because I can make nearly any car as dependable as it needs to be via preventative maintenance applied to “The Big Seven.” Now I’m not so sure.”

I arrived there recently too. I ran a 2005 X3 6-speed from 70K km (bought fresh off lease in 2009) to 250K km in 2019. I kept up with all maintenance and had to do a few extra things: rear shocks after one broke, replace weeping transfer-case gaskets, expansion tank, thermostat, VANOS thingy and oil filter gasket, disabled rear sunroof, one windshield. Not too bad, and a great family car for our needs at the time. I originally figured I could keep it up to around 300,000 km. But by 200K km, it was using a litre of oil every 1500 km and there was just no way I was going to spend the kind of money engine work would require. I sold it under full disclosure to a BMW mechanic for a fair price and replaced it with a 2018 Prius (wife’s choice), also with 70K km and fresh off lease. My choice for a second car would have been a 1960s domestic wagon that I could take care of myself, given that I anticipate putting around 5,000 km a year on a second car, 90% of it on unsalted, not-snowy Wet Coast roads, but my kids persuaded me that ABS, full airbags (front, seat sides, and side curtain), and traction control were more important. So I found a 2008 Subaru Outback that had just had a full timing belt set, new head gaskets, and a full set of maintenance records (at the dealer until 2015, and with a medium-sized shop thereafter). My days of maintaining either a medium-old European car OR an older domestic car as a daily are now officially over. Is that a function of my age (see my handle)? Maybe. But also practicality and optimization of function—

Bmike
Detailer

Ask me about "good old reliable" Bosch parts. On second thought, don't.
audiobycarmine
Technician

But they ARE reliable... to you-know-what.
MATTMERICA
Technician

I always love reading the The Hack Mechanic, the stories always provoke thought. When reading the different manufacturers of the proposed parts, it reminded of Deadpool movie scene where they are discussing the various brands of ikea furniture - hilarious:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrsZ9oqgtPY
Tinkerah
Engineer

We should always take every opportunity to reference Deadpool!
Punk
Advanced Driver

Maybe its just me but the wholesale use of plastic-type products in a car cooling system, and hose 'clamps' that are not clamps, seems like utter madness! Or, perhaps, a recipe for disposability. Many areas of the car can handle this lightening (i.e. cheapening) of parts. But the cooling system? It really calls into question the intentions of the underlying company itself and their concerns about the quality of the very costly product they are selling.
JSievers
Instructor

Good article that reinforces my growing belief that out-of-warranty BMWs should be avoided at all costs. My son's 2013 335i with 62,000 miles has had problem after problem involving parts that last 150,000 miles or more on most other cars. And the way they bury components and the strange ways they use to connect them together make the car a complete PITA to work on. I loved my older 1800 and 2002 models, but knowing what I now do I would never consider buying a newer BMW.
cyclemikey
Detailer

Well, it was an entertaining article, Rob, and just like Aesop's fables, you ended with the moral of the story - buy a Honda.

I've gotten to the point that I only use my "collector" cars for local fun. My daily drivers I buy new and replace them after a few years. I know that I'm fortunate to be able to do that but in the long run the savings in anxiety and problems is worth whatever it costs.
ppointer
Detailer

Another great article. I have a few older BMWs ranging from 2001 to 2011. Yes, they are expensive to maintain. But I like how they drive, and they are still cheaper overall than going with something new.
LittleCarBigSky
Intermediate Driver

With the increasing complexity of today's automobiles I have to wonder how long being able to maintain aged "daily drivers" will even be possible, both practically and economically.

My 1990 NA Miata was conceived near the end of the era where shade tree mechanical tools and skills are adequate to keep a car running indefinitely. Parts are easily available and nothing exotic or complex. It's my toy, so I don't mind working on it. I'll be able to keep this running for as long as I'm willing and physically able.

Compare that to my 2019 Ford Ranger, which is basically run by dozens computers and a twin-turbo 4-cylinder packed in the front. Tons of plastic parts in there and there's barely an inch clearance between one major component and the next. If most of those electronic components fail, I'll almost certainly be totally dependent upon expensive OEM replacements. Because of it's complex nature, it's unlikely that I'll ever attempt any major repair work on it when it's past warranty. Over my lifetime, I've been run most of my cars 20 years and over 200,000 miles on regular and minor preventative care. I'll be surprised if my Ranger makes that.

And it will only get worse once EVs take over. Being able to own and operate a 20-year-old beater to over 200,000 miles will no longer be a viable proposition for most people.
Inline8OD
Instructor

"Old cars" might be a relative term. This looks like a convention of the Used Car Club of America.

 

  Two things to remember:  Late model modern cars have a preponderance of plastic, including the engine bay.   Heat degrades plastic.

 

  I'm including Mxfrank's refreshing, overdue, informed post above here, because it bears repeating.  The constant,  and dated, down-home snarls about "China" underscore a virulent racism and no understanding of manufacturing: 

Inline8OD_0-1640728976357.png

 

Mxfrank
2 hours ago
So here's the fallacy: the "made in" designation really doesn't have much meaning. It only tells you where the last assembly was done, not where the parts were actually made. So you may buy a "made in Germany" sensor, and all it may mean is that the o-ring was installed on the sensor body in Germany. The o-ring may have been made in Malaysia, and the sensor in China. And there may be nothing wrong with that. The assumption that Chinese parts are all cr_p is just that---an assumption. The quality of the part is determined by the QA process of the manufacturer. Anyone can do it well, or poorly. The Gates hose may be a better product than the Asian hose with the German label.
audiobycarmine
Technician

Child labor, unfair trade practices, pirating of every conceivable medium, poisonous dog AND baby foods...
Who needs to be a racist? Not me.
I’m simply an educated consumer, with no desire to reward illegal behaviors.
Racism has NO part or place.

And yeah — their stuff IS nearly always sub-standard.
Jake
Intermediate Driver

When I was younger (i.e., 1960's & '70's). my go-to parts house was NAPA. As times changed and the counter guys wanted to know how many doors my car had when I asked for a set of points, I changed. Now I have to know the specific manufacturer's part numbers to make certain that I get the right parts for my projects. That's ok for for my daily drivers, but doesn't work so well with my '34 Plymouth coupe with a Chevy 350 engine, TH350 trans, MII front end and and '57 Chevy rear end (plus everything else in between that I used when I built it in 1974). On my daily drivers, Rock Auto has been a life-saver regarding the correct factory part numbers as long as I have the original RPO codes for the vehicle. I also make it a point to order only OEM parts when I am doing maintenance and repairs on my daily drivers. The aftermarket parts may be cheaper, but it is a false savings. I have had too many aftermarket parts that "almost" fit. Then there is the "universal fit" parts. I have found that means that they universally don't fit anything. I have a parts dealer locally that is a little more expensive than RockAuto, but they know me and do their best to help me get the correct OEM parts. One key item that is necessary when buying parts: TAKE THE OLD PART WITH YOU TO THE PARTS STORE AND MAKE CERTAIN THAT THEY ARE AN EXACT MATCH before you leave. Just some hindsight from an old rodder.
Inline8OD
Instructor

We always go to NAPA, and our old cars have their real engines.
KlausKneip7263
Pit Crew

Plastic radiator end caps and water pump impellers can be trusted for long service with a caveat. The material of construction of these parts is polyamide 66 (nylon 66) glass fiber filled, typically 30% glass fiber — it is a composite. In use, the material sees a hot mixture of glycol and water. This mixture in time especially if the coolant is not changed will promote hydrolytic glycolysis of the nylon polymer and failure. Glass filling the polymer adds a range of benefits and detriments to the composite—generally benefits. However, thermal hydrolysis of glass reinforced nylon composites is an unsolved problem for the industry—that’s the detriment. The bottom line solution is to use a proper coolant service interval per BMW and to not be afraid of the OEM part.
2dogg
Pit Crew

I have the same story, different car, different parts, but same frustration!
Most of the parts I have bought have been good and fortunately we can buy most of the parts we need for many of our old cars. I have a few rules that I now try to follow when new parts arrive, These rules are especially true if you are doing a restoration and may not install the parts for months or even longer.
1. Carefully unpack and very thoroughly inspect the parts.
2. Do a ‘dry fit’ as much as possible to make sure the part actually fits.
3. Keep all of your invoices until work is complete and warranties have expired.
4. Don’t expect everything to go together on an old car with a lot of replacement parts without a few problems. Stuff always happens! it is in the fine print of the old car rule book.





VaE39
New Driver

Great article and oh man, isn't this timely and coincidental! I have an '98 E39 528i. New water pump (Graf) from FCP purchased about a year ago. Now its leaking!
My main question, is why are water pumps so difficult to engineer for long life? It just spins. Geez, how hard could it be! I'm willing to pay the extra money for a better quality product.

But, there-in lies the problem, there is no metric, as everyone above has discussed, as to the quality rating of the item. You don't necessarily get what you pay for with replacement parts. And no guarantee with brand names. I thought Moog was the go-to for suspension parts until I had an early failure.

I do feel Toyota, in general for cars and parts, has the edge in quality and endurance. And I think the numbers support their longevity. If I was replacing a Toyota part, I would go to the dealer, not aftermarket. For everyone else, probably aftermarket.

It would be great if some of the large parts outlets like FCP, or Rock Auto, etc. would run some type of statistics on failures for each part (and brand) sold. I have no idea of the magnitude of their sales numbers. Would be interesting to see the data.
Sachf563649
Pit Crew

What I want to know is what a—hole designed the fan blade/ clutch setup found on most late model cars? What was wrong with the old design, a flange pressed on to the water pump shaft, either cross shaped or circular with four threaded holes? It was around for years even after they started putting fan clutches on. Now the fan clutch assembly is threaded onto the pump shaft and you need a pin tool to keep the pulley from turning to take it apart. Crap! Just to force you to buy, rent or borrow a specialized tool.
Hammerinhank
Pit Crew

Interesting discussion on OE v aftermarket parts. Having worked for both a major American car company and an OE suppler, I've had the opportunity see the proverbial "sausage" being made and it is not always pretty. Very often, the parts that did not quite pass inspection for the assembly plant ended up getting packaged for part and service.
Tinkerah
Engineer

Hammerinhank: I, and likely others here, would appreciate hearing more of your insights having worked so closely in the industry if you have the inclination.
Jnick
Detailer

One thing about really old school vehicles is that given enough grease and oil the stuff just keeps going. It was no minor engineering feat that WWII was largely won due to logistical superiority with Liberty ships made in 17 days delivering goods to Murmansk due to simple design.
Sure comfort and machining perfection took a back seat but rebuildable components like water pumps for instance make operations that much simpler and cheaper too! Not to mention slow turning slow understressed componentry, just remember to make routine checks often and enjoy the job and the ride!
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I think I found a new one BMW = Broke Man Walking

Too soon?