What Is an OEM?

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CARS.COM — OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer.” Though some in the automotive industry have taken to referring to car companies themselves as OEMs, the term relates to any company that manufactures parts for use in new vehicles — or to the parts themselves.

Original equipment manufacturers work closely with carmakers to build parts used in the manufacture and repair of new vehicles. Some also produce branded replacement parts for car dealers and independent repair shops. A mechanic may give you a choice of using OEM or typically less expensive aftermarket parts when your car needs a repair.

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OEMs make a wide variety of components and hardware, such as exhaust systems, brakes, glass and electrical parts. Some double as aftermarket suppliers, which make parts sold as replacements for worn or failed items and are marketed through auto parts stores, independent garages or other channels. Better known examples of OEMs are companies like ACDelco, which makes components used in the manufacture of new GM vehicles, and Motorcraft, which performs a similar role for Ford.

As with hardware, there are also OEM and non-OEM options availible for a vehicle’s onboard computer and software systems. This can involve the aftermarket software tuning of a car’s Engine Control Unit for improved economy or performance.

OEM parts are generally perceived as being of higher quality than those sold through the aftermarket even if this is not necessarily the case. Some mechanics and car restorers prefer using OEM parts to keep a car as close to the original as possible, which can add to its value.

A frequent misconception is that the use of aftermarket parts can void a manufacturer’s warranty. This is not the case as long as the parts in question are made to manufacturers’ specifications and are correct for the vehicle. Aftermarket OEM versions of parts and equipment often have generic equivalents that are built to the same specifications but are cheaper in price.

Some of the better known names in the world of OEM suppliers include BorgWarner, Bosch and TRW, while other mega suppliers like Johnson Controls are not necessarily household names. But Johnson makes everything from car batteries to interior components — including door panels and dashboards for a wide variety of domestic and imported brands, in factories located in the U.S., China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Japan and elsewhere.

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