Avoid the Chinese-Made Torture
Most cars will need repairs. New car dealers, chain stores and independent shops provide service. Overall, Consumer Reports' auto editor Jim Travers says repair shop satisfaction surveys reveal that independents score highest. This varies widely by car brand. Educator Darrin Shacht, who uses a neighborhood garage for his Mazda's non-warranty work, concurs. He describes his independent shop as "good people; they know what they're doing; they don't rip you off."
This author, however, is a longtime do-it-yourselfer. He consults machinists or other specialists, when he needs further assistance.
Regardless of who fixes your ride, you must also find parts. Carmakers do a lot more assembling and a lot less manufacturing than you might think. GM and Ford, for example, jettisoned their component-making divisions. They're now Delphi and Visteon. Firms such as Bosch, Valeo and Denso also produce the pieces that make your car go.
These firms are called original equipment manufacturers. Besides selling their components to carmakers and their dealer networks, you can often save money by buying the same parts through other distribution channels. Your new car dealer's parts department or service department might offer discounts too. Besides promotions, new-car dealers sometimes befriend car clubs. For example, my local import-brand dealer's parts department offers a 10% discount to Volkswagen Club of America members. Join a club!
Alternative parts sources include chain stores and independent part houses. Internet shopping and catalogues are alternatives. If you're a frequent shopper, ask for "B" pricing, the amount car repair shops pay. When a price sounds outrageous, ask whether there's a less costly choice. For example, Steve Bush at Concours Motors (Milwaukee), saved me $25 by substituting a "generic" VDO-made vacuum motor rather than one with the carmaker's part number on it.
Besides new OEM pieces there are remanufactured parts, recycled components and knock offs. Federal Mogul, an OEM brand, makes Moog's Problem Solvers. These chassis parts are designed to resolve trouble-prone steering components. I've tried them on Chrysler's cars and trucks. They work well.
Remanufactured parts, which are rebuilt problematic alternators, starters and even electronic modules, can be a good alternative to new parts. Quality varies. Those offered by the original manufacturer are probably the most reliable but alternatives sources can do a very good job. For instance, Auto & Truck Electronics fixed my 1996 VW Jetta's cruise control module at one-quarter the new part's price. Local shops that specialize in restoring alternators, starters and other car parts are good resources.
Salvage yards can be ideal for parts hunting. Besides selling used engines and transmissions you can find body, interior and other items that perform well while saving money.
A sly fly in the ointment is the knock off or impostor part. In collision repair, many insurers push "offshore" Asian-made fenders, bumpers and hoods that imitate the OEM parts. Critics note that many of these are inferior and possibly dangerous. Another sneaky trick: parts sold as Original Equipment brand. These Chinese-made parts fill voids. For example, OEM suppliers have either gone out of business or stopped making certain components. So, impostors move in.
I've experienced poor fit and function with OE-branded parts. Because they're described as original equipment on websites and catalogs, you might inadvertently purchase them when seeking the OEM part.