Technician’s Update : Cheap parts drive you spare!

Mike Humble

MG ZT-T Capable and achingly pretty yet often criminally bodged for sake of a few pennies.

Getting a deal is what makes many of tick, stealing a bargain while saving a bung makes life all the more sweeter for the wheeling dealing petrol head – it’s a great feeling. Sometimes things go slightly curly, so you learn to accept it and take the rough with the smooth by drawing a line in the sand as t`wer and reluctantly move on. I love a good deal, but one thing I have learnt over the years is that there is no such thing as a cheap car. The SAAB 9-3 I bought last year quickly turned into a money pit, but luckily, I somehow managed to get the damn thing kind of sorted and sold – tout sweet!

But it’s not only cars that have a certain knack of turning round and biting you, the latest bear pit in the automotive world relates to aftermarket parts. Once upon a time you entrusted big names such as Quinton Hazel – Unipart – AP Products et al to supply your clunker with spares or service items, but in a world ravaged by contracting profit margins and dog eat dog competition – suppliers are looking overseas to keep those margins sensible.

When it comes to my own cars, I make a point with sticking with what I know best parts wise and I know where to shop around to source them efficiently. I don’t get my plugs from the same guy as my gaskets and my Halfords trade club card gets me unbeatable deals on lubricants & consumables, but the one thing I will steadfastly refuse to succumb to is cheap parts on the internet. Yes I have sourced trim items and engine components via a leading auction site but it stays there, consumable items like brakes or gaskets can be fatal via the web, of which I shall explain…

A former work colleague now flirts around in the used car game, buying and selling a handful of cars – all legit I may add, but his bread and butter stock is very much in the bangernomic category. He was, and still is, a bloody good patter merchant when it comes to selling a car and knows his stuff too, but his downfall gets him every time – he does things on the cheap. Not a month goes by without one of those ‘ere you might know’ conversations coming down the wire. Of course, I oblige in helping… but the bugger never listens.

Well, he’s truly done it this time over an 04 plated MG ZT120 which he bought from auction so cheap, that even I would have been tempted to raise a hand. Purchased with the obligatory HGF in its earliest guise, even Arthur Daley wearing a blindfold would sense a nice little earner – 24 carat as I live and breathe squire… stand on me. His tale of woe explained that he had a customer lined up for the car in his mind before driving it back from the flea pit auction house. So after throwing some water and a hoover at the svelte looking shooting break, his customer is contacted.

Said punter was made well aware of the HGF but old Simon promised to have it in perfect working order before the cheque cleared and even offered to sling in a short yet fairly decent warranty to add some confidence. He uses a local and fairly trustworthy mobile mechanic as a rule, but is not averse to getting grubby if he needs to. After another session of brain picking on the blower, he decides to undertake to job himself… much against my advice I may add, sensing that some serious profit is to be made out of the MG.

An Eastern made MLS copy K series head gasket – This one was barely a year old!

Well, it now transpires that my hapless chum has suffered the trauma of buying cheap consumable parts over the internet, and paid for it. He bought a head set including bolts and postage for something in the region of £45, fitted it all himself along with a cambelt and drove around in it for a few days thinking life was good. Until very recently when returning from Ipswich he detected a miss fire and noticed his coolant bottle was virtually empty. Dispatching the car to his local mobile, the conclusion was that he would have been better off making a gasket from an old birthday card.

The head dimension and condition was fine, as were the cylinder liners, but the fire rings on the gasket itself were of such poor quality material that one had split, thus causing coolant to flood into one of the cylinders. Simon has since recovered the car back to his gaff and has not yet decided what to do with it, he’s also swallowed a bitter pill by means of refunding a deposit to his customer who bought elsewhere. But this is by no means a rare tale of sorrow, it happens every day simply because the trade and Rover owners so often cut corners, with the aforementioned being the result.

Our own Keith Adams went through the same trauma with his Rover 75, but the difference here, was that we knew it was knackered to start with and relished the challenge of taking a very very sick K series and transforming it into something better. So be very aware of cheap imported components on the internet. XPart and Victor Reinz provide the very highest quality components when it comes to K series HGF – quite honestly nothing else will do. And don’t even think about not upgrading the crankshaft oil rail either, just do it right first time to simply fit and forget!

Many of these inferior parts are made in the Far East and sold on the web simply because there is little face to face comeback when it goes wrong, as it so often does. Your local factor will not stock such rubbish as a rule, owing to the fall out caused by warranty returns but it also extends to other parts too. I know of one person who purchased some Chinese imported brake pads for his Vauxhall Omega that cost a quarter of what his local factor could have supplied a set of decent Ferodo items. Every week his alloys were as black as the cobs of hell and after just 7000 miles, they were worn down to the limit – was the saving worth it?

My take on this caper is a simple one, if you are tempting fate on such poor quality cut price components with the above examples providing proof that its foolish to think something comes for nothing, can you actually afford to run a motor car or afford to do the job twice?

Mike Humble


  1. Land Rover spec head gaskets all round!

    Brake pads from EuroCarParts who are usually helpful with diy mechanicing amateurs like me.

    Been there before. Knocking on suspension on Alfa GTV. Cheap wishbones on ebay = happy days! 2 months later – knock, knock, knock….

  2. Yep, my SLK’s third-party (chinese knockoff, and I do want to emphasise knockoff as guess where the genuine parts come from..) MAF was a source of much irritation. Not least because another £60 would have got the genuine article.

    OTOH, I did buy a cam sensor online, well listed as a Febi part – and that’s exactly what it was, with the Mercedes logo ground off, Febi being the OEM.

    Main reason I avoid buying online is that the people supplying the parts aren’t exactly careful about catalogues, VINs etc – aside from the raft of bits for Vauxhalls, Fords etc. that show up when you search for Saab, buying parts for my Chrysler I constantly got sent bits for the previous generation or American spec.

  3. Good advice from Mike… you are always better off sticking with either manufacturers genuine parts or OEM quality items from the likes of Ferodo, Mintex, Unipart, ACDelco etc. Not much point in spending £1 to save 50p!

  4. Can’t argue with that advice.

    I normally spend a little more and get things from my local factor, and get names I recognise like Delphi, QH, Mintex etc.

  5. It’s mostly the private owners that cut corners. As we all know all MG Rovers are now in banger territory and even a recent Rover 25 can be bought for the price of a good service, Many owners haven’t chosen a Rover or MG, they’ve chosen a cheap car and that means buying parts as cheap as possible; even used brake pads and shoes from the local breakers for the sake of saving a few quid.

  6. Ferrodo, Mintex, EBC, Quinton Hazell, Bosch, Champion, NGK, Boge, Monroe, Yuasa, Victor Reinz, XPart, Motaquip, Central Auto, Unipart…. so on and so on… There should be no excuse from those in the know about not being able get quality parts.. Although I have heard of even some ‘specialists’ mucking things up…

    I remember the Cavalier/Calibra track control arm debacle, ie the TCA’s failed causing the wheel to go back into the arch toward the occupants at fast road speeds. It turns out that the official part, as well as aftermarket parts from reputable firms, used the correct specified steels, protected accordingly and featured 25 spot welds to keep the pieces together. Tests on the cheap and nasty make found that they had usually about 13-15 spot welds and the material it was made from had the Young’s modulus of a rich tea biscuit!..

    So remember peeps, not only could cheap internet parts cost you money in the long run, they could even cost you your life.

  7. Tyres are a great example of this. Compare some chinese budget tyres to even mid range BF Goodrich/Falkens and you’ll be amazed and will worry how anyone would fit chinese tat to their car.

  8. 5&6: I thought it was illegal to sell s/h pads and shoes.

    Even “reputable” retailers, like the one who claimed you can do it for half, can be dodgy. I remember buying a Vauxhall fan belt which was far too short – took it back and they put it back on the shelf – even with my greasy fingerprints on the packaging!
    Honda-engined 216 and 416 owners beware – a certain well-known retailer sold me a fuel filter which wouldn’t fit the car, as the rolled-over flange at the top was too big to fit into its bracket. Some aftermarket oil filters have shorter casings – they fit and do the job, but you tend to burn your wrists when removing them, because you have to grip them nearer to the exhaust pipe.
    Finally, brake pads. I had to file down the edges of the backplates on aftermarket 216 pads – but the pads for an Astra 1.6 were even worse – they had spurious wire clips fitted, which I had to tear off with pliers to make them fit!

  9. Here guys i have partly to agree with you and partly to disagree. Speaking about spare parts a lot of spare parts are made from subcotractor and put just in a original box or a 3rd part box (no name box). I make an example the same Borg-Warner in the MG-R over box cost 3 times more than the same in a neutral (valeo i think). and is perfectly the same one.

    The tyres….cmon dont be too optimistic a lot of tyres are made in any case in china. You have to use a little of investigating skills that you find where premium brands are made and the 2nd brand markets which brand are.
    Here I will give you the example from my country. Goodyear owns the local Sava tyres factory, and Goodyear, Dunlop and Sava comes out the same line (with resonable differences in prices)

    Now i am not telling that all asians manufactures are rubbish, some are good and some are criminals, but are you sure that the “original” spares are not just chinese rubbish in a recycled or copied original box???

    Spares market is not so easy but is up to research and exchange of experiances on forums….

    is just my oppinion


  10. I think the golden rule is spend your money on OE sensors i.e MAF sensor etc,a lot of the cheap one cause massive drivability problems,i do a lot of Corsa/Astra timing chains as “foreigners” and i get aftermarket kits that are completely OE items with the GM legend ground out for a fraction of the price.
    As for customers wanting everything on the cheap i have found its the folk with Range Rover sport and X5’s that are the worst for this,from goosed subframe bushes leaving the rear wheels almost hanging off to suspension pumps-they want the cache of the car but cant afford to maintain-fur coat and no knickers springs to mind!

  11. Hang on though.. I know for a fact that Quinton Hazell used to do pretty much most of the parts for Rover as OEM – the difference was simply that Rover charged to cover their brand overheads.. It’s the same with Halfords QH and AP, they charge extra to cover their general operating costs. In fact some of my ‘cheap’ parts had Powertrain written on them back when PT as still up and running. (Motaquip by the way are owned by PSA)

    So yeh, make sure you know that the motorparts company is throwing straight dice – The names of those above always do.

  12. The place i work has a contract with Euro car parts,which in turn means buying power and huge discount,for example,)* transit track rod end-£2.45 to anyone else on the website approx £35. unbelievable. Ford charge £50.00,the parts we get match OE quality and makes sense once the vehicle is out of its warranty period.

  13. @17,No,they are our own vehicles and maintained in-house.However,if repairs are down to misuse they will br re-charged for the parts and labour,with sensible mark up (40% as is the norm)on the parts.

  14. How do you know that they’re made from the same grade of steel as OEM parts? They all look much the same even to the trained eye!

  15. @19, Febi Bilstien part,besides,in house warranty work requires OE parts,vehicles out of warranty on our hire fleet use parts as per service level agreement with ECP,which have to meet or exceed OE requirements.

  16. Just a thought, id there any certification for far parts that meet or exceed the OE specification?… either an ECE, BS, SAE, ISO or some other number that relates to aftermarket parts. I know TUV in Germany have their thing for some parts but I’m wondering if there is at least some sort of national or EU standard in this country.

  17. Most of the companies should meet ISO,anyway, folk have to be sensible, your local factors are not going to sell shite like the stuff on the web-that gear is for fools,pattern parts are the you get what you pay for-if that cheap exhaust wont fit it will teach you to buy Bosal or Timax next time,ECP are very good especially on thier website giving you options from premium price and quality to budget patern parts which are safe,and lets face it,they have to be.GSF is another good outlet for all makes parts as well,that doesnt mean that your local independant factors are no good.

  18. I think all this can be summed up in one simple sentence: “trying to have champagne for lemonade money.”

    It doesn’t work. I still use OEM mechanical parts on my low mileage MG ZR turbo-diesel and have yet to find any real significant cost savings between these and aftermarket parts. An example of this is with the cambelt which will need doing because despite being it being one of the last examples built and with just 18,000 miles under its belt, it is still a seven and a half year old car. When the dealer priced up the cost of OEM parts vs. aftermarket bits, the cost difference including labour was less than fifty pounds.

  19. @24 It depends though: I advised a friend of mine that the £900 for brake pads and discs for his 2006 Jaguar XKR was a little excessive and that was before fitting.

    I looked around and found Bosch aftermarket parts at much less than £300. Brembo pads came in a little cheaper but these both matched or exceeded the manufacturer specification. I even get the feeling that either Bosch or Brembo may even have supplied the actual OEM parts!!!

    It’s the same as Powertrain vs Quinton Hazell. QH Water pump for a Monetgo/Maestro 2.0 is actually that supplied to Powertrain! All Powertrain did was mark up the price.

    One thing I will absolutely advise is that critical fixings are brought OEM, such as suspension strut bolts, wing bolts, subframe bolts. Never, EVER get cheap bolts for engine either – especially the K-Series. The specification has to be exact and not come below-par or exceed the manufacturer specs.

  20. Look no further than LTI. The cheap Chinese steering racks they fitted to the taxis they made resulted in catastrophic recall.

  21. 2004 Volvo S60 2.0T lambda sensor Dealer £220,factors £60-made by Nippondenso the same as the dealer part only in a volvo box, do the math.

  22. I’ve just fitted some anti roll bar links to my VW Bora, i got them from Euro car parts. After 200 motorway miles, they now make a god awful squeaking noise. I would take them back but i got them ages ago. I used to rely on Euro car parts and GSF to keep my Peugeot’s on the road. I got some brake pads from GSF for a 306, they came in a box marked Bendix, who made the calipers fitted to my Pug. And i made quite a saving on those and many other parts i got from them. But recently I’ve found that they too just knock out cheap and nasty parts. From now on i will be more careful and do more research.

    • Just be very careful regarding quality of these parts. Get yourself down to your local TPS, speak to them properly and they should serve you and give you discount. I certainly do with the private punter.

  23. They do a range of prices and brands for parts,did you buy the really cheap ones? did you get the febi bilstein ones or some unknown ones?

  24. They were Lemforder parts, i was asked at the time if i wanted aftermarket quality or OEM spec. I opted for the latter.

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