What Does OEM Mean?

Original Equipment Manufacturer

oem parts
New parts can be OEM or something else. Matt Wright, 2015

The acronym OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer.

Typically, OEM refers to original parts for the automotive industry. For example, if you have a Chevy and need an engine, you can purchase one from another manufacturer or an authentic Chevrolet engine. While the manufacturer may not make the exact part, OEM refers to the part that the manufacturer used in the original vehicle. People often look for genuine OEM parts to replace a broken component because they can ensure the quality of the part.

Finding Authentic OEM Parts

Usually, OEM parts must be bought from a dealer, someone who got the parts from a dealer, the manufacturer (that would be Chevrolet in the previous example), or the manufacturer who made the official parts used in the original vehicle. The window switch you see hanging on the rack in the auto parts store is not an OEM part because it was manufactured by somebody else and only used to replace the window switch Ford installed on the assembly line. If you Google "2010 Ford window switch" you'll see results for a bunch of switches made by various companies to replace your switch. Usually, you can't even figure out what company it as actually is, but it doesn't matter because the $8 window switch is likely to give you $8 in service. This is why people go to an auto dealer parts specialist.

There are some cases where you may not have 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 engine, however, you may want to go with the OEM version.

OEM Parts Not Made by a Manufacturer

As mentioned, 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 if 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. And if you have a little more know-how in the auto industry, you may be able to decode lingo to find a quality part you need at a great price...OEM or not.