Underestimating quality detrimental to industry

Jan. 1, 2020
At what point does the pride of ownership give way to the feeling that a car's just an old clunker, unworthy of first quality parts?

New cars are expensive. Next to a home, it’s probably the single most expensive item most Americans will buy.

Knowing this along with the fact that it’s possible to be in debt for as many as seven years when you buy a new vehicle, it makes you wonder how some people draw the line regarding parts and repairs.

At what point does the pride of ownership give way to the feeling that it’s just an old clunker, unworthy of first quality parts and service? Carrying multiple lines of the same products gives some interesting insights into the possible answers to this question.

Brakes and exhaust are the two most common undercar parts that we sell, and we can accommodate just about any level of features, quality and cost range wanted by our customers. Brake pads come in all different compositions to suit every driving need, but when most customers are offered a choice, it usually boils down to price.

The same applies to rotors — given a choice between OEM rotors, premium aftermarket rotors or inexpensive (and often underperforming) rotors made in China, guess which one usually wins?

It’s not just the DIY customers who are guilty of this, either. I have technician customers who want nothing but the cheapest, no matter what, and if you ask them why, they will tell you that it’s what their customers want.

In some cases I know this is true, but I also know many techs who will present customers with all the options before ordering. There are even a few out there who won’t use lesser grade products. But if a two- or three-year-old vehicle with 50,000 miles is about to have the OEM pads and rotors changed out, isn’t it better for everyone involved to replace them with something that will last just as long?

In most cases the aftermarket can meet or exceed the OEMs in quality and beat them in price while making a reasonable profit. Quality is ours to sell, and we even get an added boost from the negative attitude that some people have about dealing with the OEMs. Yet we often fail to capitalize on this; it seems as if market forces are steadily pushing us in the opposite direction, selling on price alone.

I witnessed the most extreme example of this 20 years ago, but it still inspires me and makes me chuckle. A customer came in looking for a cat-back exhaust for a five- or six-year-old Chevy truck. He was quoted prices on the OE-style direct replacement system with a lifetime warranty muffler, but he thought the cost was too high.

He was then quoted on a glasspack-style economy muffler with the understanding that it would require adapters, especially because he was going to try and reuse his intermediate and tail pipe, which were rotted where they entered the muffler and at one of the hangers. He figured, “Why not just sleeve them?”

After about four hours and three trips back to the store looking for an adapter “one size different” than the one he got the last time, or a piece of straight pipe or an elbow, he was finished. And he ended up spending about $2 more than if he had bought the more quality product the first time. It sounds foolish, and it was, but at least he can lay claim to the fact that before George Foreman ever said it, you could credit him with the line, “I’m not going to pay a lot for this muffler.”

We should never underestimate the power of quality.