Back in the day, when you bought replacement parts for commercial vehicles, you had two, maybe three choices – and they were pretty well understood by most parts buyers, counter sales persons, and service techs. That world is changing. There are more options than ever today, and with those choices, there’s more confusion for the users. I’d like to spend a few minutes addressing some of those choices and when it makes sense (or not) to use something other than a new product from the original manufacturer.
We don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about service-new replacement parts from the original manufacturer – like Bendix – as the benefits are well understood: The buyer pays a premium and knows they are getting the same product that the truck manufacturer is getting. If you understand the rigor that OEs place on their suppliers, you know that you are getting world-class quality and a supplier who stands behind their parts.
What that means is engineered performance out of the box, long-term reliability and durability, plus a technical expert you can actually talk to if you have a problem with either product performance or application. These are peace of mind “premiums” built into the selling price of the product and more. You might not appreciate those characteristics unless you have a problem like premature failures, sub-par performance, or something in your system not working properly.
Think of that premium like an insurance policy. You hope you never have to use it, but if you do, the savings from buying a cheaper alternative are lost in a few minutes of service tech time, buying replacement parts, or time spent on the phone trying to get hold of somebody who understands a truck’s brake system. And we’re not even talking about the cost and inconvenience of having a truck down and all of those additional expenses.
Usually when we speak about buying all-makes or clones instead of a genuine product, we’re not always talking about big differences in cost – but for a fleet servicing 100 trucks, a $20 or $30 difference in product cost can add up. We can empathize with wanting to save money on the parts side of the business, but we encourage a good look at all the costs and risks involved as part of a fleet’s lower total cost of ownership strategy.
Reman: Genuine and All-Makes
Let’s look at genuine reman parts first. These products are factory rebuilt by the original manufacturer using a mix of reconditioned components and brand new from the same suppliers they use on original equipment. Wear components and items subjected to high stress or high temperatures, or subject to high fatigue or corrosion, are replaced with original spec components identical to those on a brand-new product. At Bendix, it can be true that genuine reman is better than new because the parts that we recondition have already performed well in service!
Genuine reman provides many of the same benefits as service new, but typically costs quite a bit less, so you can save money and still get a high quality product. The only downside is that reman involves a core charge, which can be an issue for fleets who don’t wish to deal with core banks, evaluating cores, and sending them back to the supplier.
Next in line are all-makes or non-genuine reman – this one is more complicated. There are many options that fall into the family of all-makes. I include non-genuine reman in the same bucket, since they share a number of the same attributes. All-makes can be a host of different things, depending on the remanufacturer.
Traditional all-makes are hybrids that mix original but reconditioned components with parts that are sourced to match the original manufacturer’s hardware. If the remanufacturer is also an OE, they might source these parts from their existing supply chain, which is usually ideal. If those parts aren’t economical to source from their existing suppliers, most all-makes providers source their parts from a small network of importers who reverse-engineer the necessary hardware. Those suppliers can be a mixed bag. A reputable all-makes manufacturer holds these suppliers to high standards, quality verification, and endurance testing – some of the same requirements required for service new. On the other hand, a lot of the parts are bought using a fingers-crossed mentality, where you hope you are buying good parts.
It’s important to note there are premium all-makes typically offered by OE suppliers – like Bendix – as part of their aftermarket product portfolios, which are not to be confused with a second tier of manufacturers who sell all-makes for less, but the origin of their parts and final assembly is often less scrutinized. Once again, you get what you pay for, and the cheapest all-makes might not be the best solution for the long-term, or even for the second or third owners of a truck.
The Unknowns of Clones
Last in line are will-fits, or what I refer to as clones. A clone is a form-fit-function copy of a popular OE product. Clones are designed using reverse-engineering guesses, since the manufacturer doesn’t have access to the OE’s original drawings or specifications. Once again, clones run the gamut of really poor to acceptable. All clones are marketed as value-priced alternatives without a core charge, so they appeal to second, third, and fourth owners – or first owners who are getting ready to sell their trucks and are looking for a cheap fix before trade-in.
Clones can be appealing to small fleets who don’t want to deal with core banks. That said, there can be a fair amount of risk when you buy a clone product.
Clones are manufactured using dimensions, processes, and surface treatments that are guesses based on reverse engineering. When you buy a clone product, you might be familiar with the “brand” on the box, but you’ll never know who the actual supplier really is. It is likely the end user never really knows what they are getting. You are paying less, but there is almost always a trade-off in product life, performance, corrosion resistance, or some other key factor. You might save money initially but end up spending more in the long-term on more frequent replacements, more downtime, and downstream failures as a result of the lower performance.
Today’s parts buyers have more options than ever, but it’s important to educate yourself and ask your suppliers the right questions while having realistic expectations for the parts you are choosing. You’ll never go wrong with a genuine product in the long run, but it’s up to the end user to ultimately understand and weigh the risks and benefits of using an alternative supplier.
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