Out on the Serengeti a lonely lioness is
stalking its next meal.  Crouching down in the
tall grass she keeps a close watch on a herd
of wildebeest passing by.  At the end of the
long procession a weak calf that appears to
have lost its mother is barely keeping up with
the herd.  A perfect ambush and a quick strike
will keep the other wildebeest from interfering
with what the lioness is going to do.  She has
studied the terrain, judged the wind, and has
found her bargain for the day.  From here out
it’s up to nature to take its course. 
Will the wildebeest be the next meal for the lioness and her cubs or will it escape the claws of the huge lion?

In nature, it is generally considered that the strongest will survive, or at least it seems that way.  I tend to think of it in a different way. In nature, the opportunist has the advantage. We all shop for bargains, we’re all opportunist in a way just like the lion.  In the concrete jungle bargain hunters come in all shapes and sizes, but we are all after one specific thing… price. We search thrift stores, auctions, garage sales, box stores, and buy at a discount, even auto parts and services. But a bargain is one thing, weak knock-off automotive components is completely different.

The lioness out on the Serengeti shops with one thing in mind, and that’s hunger.  The bargain automotive shopper shops with one thing on their mind as well, and that’s price. A weak, second grade component is the most likely choice. The lioness searches out the weak so it doesn’t have to work as hard, while the bargain shopper buys the weak component because it’s cheaper.  Snatching up some of these bargains can have some side effects too. 

As I watch these automotive bargain hunters on their quests for the cheapest deal, I’ve noticed they seldom take in account their cheaper part is lacking something… “quality”.   A lot of parts come from the same manufacturer, but not all the components are built to the same specifications. It could be a weak version of the original, it could be a part that barely limped its way through quality control and ended up in the back of the pack. There’s something that makes it a cheaper buy and not just because it’s at the discount store.  We all know… cheaper parts are cheaper for a reason, but during the frenzy search for the bargain those thoughts are forgotten. 

It could be the quality of the part wasn’t up to the quality level for a certain manufacturer so that particular piece was sent along its way to the next wholesale bidder down the line and put on the shelves at one of the discount parts stores.  That’s where you’ll find the bargain hunters looking for a replacement part. Keep in mind, the quality part on the top shelf has a price to the end consumer which is not (obviously) what the manufacturer sold it to the store for, and there are several ways to buy quality parts and avoid the different markups as the part goes from wholesaler to wholesaler and store to store.  A cheaper part on the shelf starts out the same way… so…how much lower was the price when “it” left the manufacturer?

Being in the repair business I see a lot of discount parts day after day. They usually are coming in from off shore manufacturers. Places like Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, China, and several others. Years ago one of the most common components I would run into was the external voltage regulators on the Fords.  If you took good quality regulator and placed it next to one of these bargain brands you couldn’t tell the apart.  But, pick them up, you’d know.  The cheaper one was as light as a feather, while the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) part had a bit of weight to it. These days it’s fuel pumps, HVAC control heads, window motors, engine parts, body parts and more that keep showing up as the weak link. Body shops have complained about these second rate components for years, and now it’s creeping into the mechanical/electrical repair side even more than before.

Again, it’s simply price, not quality that the bargain shoppers (Insurance companies too) are looking for rather than a top of the line component.  They assume it will work just as well as the OEM part… but it hardly ever does.  Unlike the lioness that takes what she gets and waits for the next opportunity some of these bargain shoppers in this wide expanse of the concrete jungle get rather irate over the cost of repairs or replacement parts.  (Sometimes I think I’d rather deal with the lioness instead.)

Let’s face it, we all like a bargain, and when we find one, we all like to tell everyone about it. Next thing you know there’s a stampede to the parts store.  Cheap car parts have been a mainstay of the automotive repair business for as long as I can remember. They’ve made me quite a living replacing cheap parts for good ones. Sometimes I feel like a game warden, part of my job as the professional mechanic is to distinguish between those weak parts and the good ones. 

East to west, and north to south the herd of cars run up and down the nation’s highways, traveling along like a wildebeest at times. A little traffic jam here, and a little mishap there.  It’s all in the nature of things.  So the next time you’re buzzing down the highway amongst all the other cars and trucks, just ask yourself one question, “Is that bargain part I installed really all that great?” 

You might want to slow down, and get to the back of the pack… just watch out for the hunger lion… they can spot the weak ones.  

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