What Does OEM Mean?

oem parts
New parts can be OEM or something else.

Matt Wright

If you've spent any time at your vehicle's service department or read the owner's or repair manual, you might have run into the term OEM. It stands for "original equipment manufacturer," and it can come into play during repairs or restorations.

For example, if you have a Chevy and need a new engine, you can either purchase one from another manufacturer or pay more money and buy the original engine that came with your car. Whether or not that original engine was built by Chevy doesn't matter. What does matter is that it was the engine Chevy used on the assembly line to build your vehicle. That engine is still considered OEM.

Finding Authentic OEM Parts

Usually, OEM parts must be bought from a dealer, someone who got the parts from a dealer, the automotive manufacturer, or the manufacturer who made the official parts used in the original vehicle. You'll likely never see an OEM part in the automotive store. Take, for instance, the manufacturer's window switch on your Ford. If it goes out and you need to replace it, you can find a slew of new switches at the auto parts store or advertised for sale on various online suppliers, but they are not OEM parts. They were manufactured by entirely different companies. Usually, you can't even figure out what company that actually is—but it doesn't matter, because the $8 window switch is likely to give you $8 worth of service. This is why people go to an auto dealer parts specialist for OEM parts.

There are some cases where you may not need to have the OEM part. If you are replacing a bumper, for example, why not by a cheap one? There's always a compromise, but in many cases, the money saved can be worth it. If you need an electrical component or an entire engine, however, you should find the OEM version.

OEM Parts Not Made by a Manufacturer

As mentioned above, sometimes the automotive brand does not make the OEM part but hires an outside company to be the official manufacturer of that part. In the case of an electrical part, they could outsource production to high-quality manufacturers like Bosch. In this case, Bosch is the OEM supplier for window switches and all of the switches they make for your car are therefore official Ford parts since they were installed on the assembly line. This means that they can sell Ford window switches later, under the Bosch name, and still call them OEM window switches—even if they were actually made years later. This is why it is vital to do your homework when you need an authentic OEM part—even if you find it, it may not be made by the manufacturer of your vehicle. 

Automotive acronyms can be confusing, especially when it comes to finding parts on your own when you have little automotive knowledge. If you are unsure about how to find an authentic OEM part, you may want to go to the dealership or a trusted automotive service provider. If, however, you have some auto-industry knowhow, you may be able to decode lingo to find a quality part you need at a great price, OEM or not.