Who is making the replacement parts we rely on?

The first time I went to a British Motor Trade Association meeting, some years ago, much of the conversation centered around the poor quality of some of the aftermarket parts that were being produced for our beloved old cars. I have to confess, my initial reaction was bored skepticism. I figured it was just a bunch of business owners complaining about an influx of lower-priced competition, since the problem hadn’t really affected me yet.

Since then, I have been left stranded on a rally in my TR6 with a bad master cylinder that was just six months old. On that same TR6, I installed a new mirror that lost its chrome in less than a year. And I have replaced strut rod bushings three times in 500 miles on my Shelby Mustang.

Most recently, I have just finished a Mini restoration and have been plagued with parts problems from a number of sources.

The Mini community is especially plagued by this problem, as the cars were produced by the millions, from 1959 to 2000. Perhaps more significant, the Mini community is notoriously thrifty, especially in world markets, so many of the owners are not restoring, but just trying to keep their economy cars on the road. Thus to stay competitive, manufacturers in this market have produced some truly horrendous stuff.

Another emerging problem is metric threads on parts that should have SAE components. Listen, I get that these parts are being made in China, but at least get the American hardware to copy, so they can be produced correctly. If you aren’t going to do that, at least tell us when we are buying the part that the hardware has been changed to metric threads.

Frankly, this is not fair. We are paying our hard-earned money for crap.

We haven’t even addressed the potential impact on values. Is a car restored with thousands of dollars’ worth of inferior parts worth the same as one that is either original or done right with high-quality or NOS (New Old Stock) parts? Who among you could tell the difference? At auction, should I check the threads and make sure there are no metric bolts on the car I am buying?

I’m equally concerned about the poor guys trying to service or restore these cars. When I work on an MG or Mini, should I expect to need metric wrenches? When a customer pays a restoration shop $100,000 to restore that Austin Healey or Jaguar, should he expect to break down on the side of a busy interstate within days of getting his car back from that restoration shop?

The failure might not be the fault of the shop, but it is the shop owner who will have to tow the car in and make things right. Sure, the guy who sold you the part will give you another one, but will he give you back your hours, or fix the damaged relationship with your customer? What if that inferior part resulted in a failure that caused someone to be injured?

And what does this do for the hobby as a whole? Will this problem drive people away from old cars? Many of them already have a mostly undeserved reputation for poor reliability. This won’t help it.

What can a hobbyist or restorer do?

Awareness of the problem is the first step to solving it. Know who you are buying from, and make it clear that you are more concerned with quality than price. As I have mentioned before, National Parts Depot (Mustang and other parts) gives customers a choice between lower quality and concours quality parts whenever possible. Parts vendors need to know that people will pay a little more for quality. These vendors are not totally to blame for the situation, as they have been conditioned by years of cheapskates to believe cost rules all. So ask if they offer a better choice. They might be surprised at how many of us will opt for more expensive, higher quality parts.

Second, we need to take a minute and be thankful that we have parts available for our antique cars. Without these vendors, we would have none at all and our cars would be nothing more than lawn art.

Third, actively reward quality. If you cherry-pick and shop the cheapest prices from a variety of suppliers, you force the compromises that make for inferior parts. Companies must compete or die.

The manufacturers and parts vendors need to step up as well. As a Triumph TR approaches or even passes the $30,000 price point, they need to recognize that it’s worth spending a few extra bucks to repair or restore with good parts. Vendors, please pressure your manufacturers for better quality. Some suppliers have already started doing this; I know that Moss has a guy who spends a large part of his job working to help get parts quality improved.

Don’t forget that NOS parts are still an option, and the way we solved our TR6 master cylinder issue. This is not a fail-safe, however, since decades old “new” rubber parts are a recipe for potential disaster. These parts are not getting cheaper or easier to find, either.

Finally, support organizations–like the BMTA–that are devoted to bringing real solutions to our hobby. We have been active participants in the BMTA since day one, and believe they serve a very real purpose in bringing every one together to make our old car hobby more satisfying and safer. Let’s make our voices heard.

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TurnerX19 SuperDork
10/15/20 8:33 a.m.

Five years on this remains a serious issue. The quality remains far below the original equipment across the board. The cost to produce the poor part is little less than making it correct or better than original, it is just plain sloppy on the manufacturing side.

Coupefan Reader
10/15/20 2:56 p.m.

In reply to TurnerX19 :

Two points, one of which was iterated in the story:

1.  We're cheap, we're not willing to pay top dollar for replacement parts.  That's reflected in the product.

2.  "The cost to produce the poor part is little less than making it correct or better than original..." Yes, I know, I'm a production engineer, but...have you dealt with the multitudes of MBA types in Corporate America today?  The 'race to the bottom' is alive and well and shows no signs of abatement.  


sir_mike New Reader
10/15/20 3:35 p.m.

A few months back I bought off Ebay a Lucas Sport Coil...at least that was what the ads picture showed.When it arrived it was not a Lucas coil.Some cheaply made Chineese part.Fought with them and rec'd my full refund and they didn't want the coil back.Might be good but I don't trust using it.

cosworth1 New Reader
10/15/20 4:15 p.m.

Good article, with good points made. One other point to be made: When a supplier sells you a quality piece, that fits correctly and is the genuine article, let them know that. A simple e-mail will do, letting them know that you will be coming back. It will just let them know they are on the right track, and should stay there. Same thing with service companies. If you just had some chrome plating done, and it came out nuts, let them know it.

After that, its up to them whether they just want to cheap out, make mega money, and probably go out of business, or if they want to retain the same quality of product and service that they have been.

matthewmcl (Forum Supporter)
matthewmcl (Forum Supporter) Reader
10/15/20 4:31 p.m.
TurnerX19 said:

The cost to produce the poor part is little less than making it correct or better than original, it is just plain sloppy on the manufacturing side.

This assumes you have:

1. Properly trained workers. For overseas work this can be almost impossible. Even down in Mexico this can be tricky.  I had a coworker who had been helping set up a factory in Mexico years back. The average retention for employees was about 6 weeks.  Many would not even make it all of the way through training. The company he worked for eventually gave up.

2. Proper materials.  Buying materials that come with material certs is hit or miss if you source from China.  They are not going to bother above and beyond that to put the correct materials into locally produced goods. You can't make top products from substandard materials and you can't always trust that the materials received are in fact what they are labelled or whether they were actually processed correctly.  It is not like the only ones cutting corners were at final assembly.

Properly trained inspection people are difficult to train and keep, as compared to a typical factory worker. That additional labor/equipment cost can be significant, and for a supplier that plans on being a different company name next year (or next month), what does it really matter?

stylngle2003 Reader
10/15/20 5:14 p.m.
Coupefan said:

In reply to TurnerX19 :

Two points, one of which was iterated in the story:

1.  We're cheap, we're not willing to pay top dollar for replacement parts.  That's reflected in the product.

2.  "The cost to produce the poor part is little less than making it correct or better than original..." Yes, I know, I'm a production engineer, but...have you dealt with the multitudes of MBA types in Corporate America today?  The 'race to the bottom' is alive and well and shows no signs of abatement.  


*cough* Not all "MBA types" exhibit these behaviors...

Coupefan Reader
10/15/20 5:52 p.m.

In reply to stylngle2003 :

My apologies.  That was a broad and unfair observation. I have in fact (quite refreshingly) worked with many who didn't follow a scorched earth philosophy to the next quarterly report.  There was still a shred of humanity within them. 

aircooled MegaDork
10/16/20 1:14 p.m.

I am suspicious some of this is related to the lack of use of many of the cars these parts go on.  Most classic cars are barely driven and will not notice a bad part for a long time.

If you like to drive your car though... bad news.

wspohn Dork
10/18/20 1:18 p.m.

The irony (for sellers) is that while owners are only willing to pay for cheap Chinese chrome parts, they are the first to complain when the thin flashing of chrome deteriorates (in as little as a year).

I have talked to some of the vendors who tell me that stocking a premium bumper, for instance, at double the price or more is loser for them as the cheap car owners would apparently rather buy a new cheap version every couple of years, carping and bitching as they go, than pay just once for a premium product.  (insert emoticon rolling eyes)

oneway New Reader
10/19/20 8:05 p.m.

Being employed the past 5 years by a nationwide auto parts store has certainly been an education for me.  I really love my job and the company that signs my paycheck but it amazes me how customers will request right up front, " Just give me the cheapest one"  without even considering the better quality part which is sometimes just a few dollars more.  Price rules the consumers in our current culture.  On the flip side, profit rules the suppliers in our current culture.  The cost of most of these inferior parts is so low that a lifetime warranty is offered and the supplier can afford to replace it several times without severely affecting profit.  Talking with our corporate loss prevention auditor about how it bothers me how many of the impulse items under our front counters are stolen- it takes about 3-4 weeks on the small cheap impulse flashlights in the dislay of 10-he understood my frustration but said not to let it bother me.  If we sold just 1 flashlight out of the 10, we did not lose money.  Not sure what the profit % is on repair parts but they don't seem to have a big issue with warranty returns or replacements.  Keep the customers happy.  They are happiest when the parts are cheap and can get it replaced if it fails or just does not work or fit quite right.  In the past couple of years I have noticed a slight increase in the number of parts with "MADE IN USA" stamped on the box.  A step in the right direction.  Thanks for your time, John-Lugoff, SC

bkwanab New Reader
1/18/21 10:50 a.m.

In reply to stylngle2003 :

I'm now retired from business but over the years owned and built several.  I learned that MBA stands for Mostly Bloody Awful from my dealings with them.  I found they were more likely to reduce our product quality and undermine client relations than contribute to our success.  They would arrive from our vendors with 'suggestions' how we could reduce our costs, never minding that our quality would suffer.

I suggest that America's race to the bottom in product quality has been driven by MBAs anxious to please investors short term gains over long term viability.  If MBAs had a motto it would be, "Never mind the quality, feel the width".

RacerJ New Reader
1/19/21 5:26 p.m.
aircooled said:

I am suspicious some of this is related to the lack of use of many of the cars these parts go on.  Most classic cars are barely driven and will not notice a bad part for a long time.

If you like to drive your car though... bad news.

I think this is spot on the issue.  Let's be realistic about these vendors.  First, there are less and less of these on the road.  Second, as Aircooled said, even the ones that are on the road, they're not commuter cars doing 10,000 miles a year.  So the demand for the parts gets painfully small.  The cost of building a quality part, let alone any part at all, is very hard to recover for the manufacturer.  The dwindling volume just doesn't support the investment.  

It's ironic that "aircooled" made this comment.  The first time I heard about this was in the 356 parts world.  As years go on, the quality suppliers just get less and less.  How many 356s are being used on a daily basis?  How many 356s are left for restoring to need the parts?  


Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
2/2/21 6:26 a.m.

I am restoring ttwo cars right now... a 65 Mustang and and Elva MK VI. Frustration does not begin to describe sourcing parts for an Elva, of which less than 30 were made. With the Mustang on the other hand, I found every part instantly.

RadBarchetta New Reader
12/1/21 10:49 a.m.

British engineering + Chinese manufacturing... what could go wrong?

TinBox New Reader
12/1/21 2:11 p.m.

As a restorer it is beyond frustrating! 
I get some of the comments regarding use - but when a motor mount won't last from the time it is fitted to the time the car is delivered there's a problem - I'm looking at you E-type suppliers - 

Rubber parts seem to be by far the worst - densities, durability etc of bushings / mounts / door seals. 

Any new unbranded brake part gets stripped and corrected before fitting now, have been burned too many times with early failures, and have found some very sketchy stuff.

As much as possible we rebuild / restore original parts, with the clients ok after educating why.

shbsn New Reader
2/25/22 9:51 a.m.

its easy to blame thrifty owners for low parts quality, but is it reality? for several decades i have announced to parts suppliers that i want quality first, and the price will be what it is.  its all going to be less than parts for new cars anyway.  

i have found that i am extremely average, meaning that its likely many, many others have taken the same stance on quality vs price.  i believe the rush to maximize profits has a lot more to do with junk parts than an unwillingness by enthusiasts to pay for quality.  

case in point is the $300 distributor i just received which turned out to be poorly manufactured garbage, 180 degrees off at the bottom key, with a cap which was not machined to seat properly.  obviously, my original distributor is going in for a rehab and this new one will go on a shelf with other rejects...

wspohn SuperDork
2/25/22 12:36 p.m.

One factor that exacerbates the problem is that if you are a supplier and you get a couple of crates in from China or India with a few gross of small parts in small packets, you can't afford to inspect every one of them for defects without having to increase prices significantly, so you just send the parts out and replace the ones that are complained about.

It is annoying but not overly so when a rubber part that is easy to get at and replace turns out to be crap and has to be replaced, but imagine the mental state of someone that just paid to have his transmission taken out and rebuilt when a small internal part (bearing, synchro ring) turns out to be crap and presents you with hundreds of bucks worth of 'redo'.

Even some of the intermediate cases are pretty annoying.  I have been telling MG owners for years not to buy the replacement A arm bushes because they last for a year or so instead of several decades, but the cheap buggers keep refusing to buy a better part (in that case the metalastic bushes used in the MGB GT V8s) because they cost more. But they still bitch just as much when the cheap rubber ones make them redo things in short order....

Goluscombe New Reader
2/25/22 7:40 p.m.

I see this a little differently, possibly.   This sounds like an opportunity for parts makers to step up reproduce quality parts, price them appropriately (don 't gouge, Porsche people) and the customer do the the advertising for them.   I'm thinking of ARP fasteners or Carillo connecting rods for which I'm fairly sure they enjoy a good reputation.   On the other hand, some engine  parts cost more than their aircraft equivalents and there is no oversight for design, security, production and processing parts while enjoying economies of scale, even with cars are few in numbe,r that are much greater than for General Aviation.      

Otherwise, it's caveat emptor everyday, especially when there's buck in it.

wspohn SuperDork
2/26/22 12:14 p.m.

I have urged some of the old British car suppliers to stock chrome parts that are of high quality, explaining that I want a bumper that last 20+ years rather than the year or less that the Chinese crap does (I've had brand new chrome pieces rust sitting in the original packing in the garage - where nothing else was rusting).

After I returned a defective front bumper for a vintage British car for that reason (it cost only a couple of hundred bucks) and asked them why they didn't also offer a good bumper at $500, as I would be glad to pay that or more (the alternative being to buy a crappy one and immediately take it to a rechromer to strip and replate).  They said that they doubted that anyone would buy them - basically (and accurately) characterizing their customers as ceep chunts.  I also susoect that had they had a premium item, they feared that it might have highlighted the fact that the base model was so inferior.

4/8/22 9:29 a.m.

Go into virtually any type of store and you find many, if not most, items are made in Communist China.  The U.S. has put itself into a very precarious position vis a vis our dependency on Red China which has made it clear it has territorial ambitions in Southeast Asia.   Should the U.S. (and others) end up in a war with them, citizens will find the shelves bare when they go shopping.  Allowing this to happen is a tragic strategic mistake and has placed our citizens at the "mercy" of a foreign nation who is a trading partner but NOT our friend. 

And, yes, many Chinese products are, indeed, inferior.  As my mum used to say, "Penny wise, Pound foolish".

Dwight New Reader
5/17/22 9:44 a.m.

" The  bitterness of poor quality, remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten" 


- Benjamin Franklin -


I first heard this from my instructor at the GM Training cneter in golden Valley Minnesota. I wrote it  down and have it on 10" X 16" placard in my shop. 

 I did not realize until many years later, where it actually was originally from


5/17/22 1:37 p.m.

I retired a few years ago, after 40 years in manufacturing...I could talk about this all day.  :)

I am also old and wise enough to realize the article and comments are based on experiences.  And I respect that...this post isn't intended to argue with anyones opinion, but to add a few of my own experiences and thoughts.  Also, the stories I will share are from the 2-wheeled world...not that it should matter, for the most part manufacturing is manufacturing. 

Around 10 years ago a friend bought some of those cheap motorcycle shocks from China.  You may have seen them, they have a piggyback resevoir and sell for around $85 on Amazon.  He made two laps around a local track and they begun to leak terribly.  So he asked me to replace the oil, seals and o-rings as I have some experience with old bike suspension.  Long story short, when I got them apart I discovered they truly set the standard for worst quality imaginable.  The machining, the materials, the fit between mating parts were all terrible...and the rubber seals and orings were hard and broken; never had a prayer to hold back fluid, never mind gas/nitrogen. 

Fast forward a few years, another friend brought me a pair of the same brand shocks.  He got a full season of vintage moto-x out of them, and they began to seep a bit.  Again, I took them apart...and found a jaw-dropping improvement.  Were they comparible to a $500 or $1000 pair of shocks made-in the US or Europe, of course not.  But a vast improvement over my previous expereince.  That is when I realized the Chinese will figure out good quality, the same as the Japanese did after WW2 implementing Ed Deming's quality concepts. And they will do so most likely without a dramatic price increase; last I checked these shocks still sell for less than $100 on Amazon...

Another quick story, the OEM fuel pump failed on my Honda VFR.  The Honda OEM pump was $250...the Chinese pump was less than $30. The quality part is not a few dollars more expensive, it is over 8 times more expensive.  Yes, 8 times.  The good news for me, a bit more research revealed a Mr. Gasket electric pump is a common mod on that particular bike.  (Gee, wonder why...?)  The Mr. Gasket pump is still on the bike and works flawlessly for around $50...but I am/was a racer, OEM parts didn't matter to me.  I realize that won't work for everyone, but you see my point...good quality, reasonable price.

In summary, some of us still remember in the 1970's the Japanese consumed the car and motorcycle market that had been established and dominated by American and European companies for decades.  It was not the Japanese fault they had a better quality product at a lower price than GM, Ford, Harley-Davidson or Bultaco.  The American and European companies were caught resting on their laurels and didn't see the threat coming.  Ed Deming was in Japan, because after trying to sell his ideas to US manufacturing, American industry made it clear they didn't want his help...whereas the Japanese welcomed his input.

Like it or not, the might of Chinese manufacturing has come to our hobby.  American (and European) manufacturing need to make smart changes...stop blaming the Chinese and revise processes and thier organizations to effectviely compete.  If they don't or aren't willing, the penalty is severe to industry... not just maintaining the cars and bikes we enjoy.

As I said, I could talk about this all day...  :)

wspohn SuperDork
5/17/22 1:44 p.m.

I fitted one of my modern sports cars with shocks made not in mainland China, but Taiwan and they were excellent! (If anyone is shopping, they are BC Racing). So while some Chinese products are crap, some are quite good.  The problem is how to tell which which without mistakes costing you money.

PetervonA2 New Reader
11/6/22 1:43 p.m.

OEM quality is assured by warranty costs. There is nothing like that direct feedback loop in the repair and restoration market. We're all forced into the roll of test driver dummies and destructive testers. Five years ago I was warned about oil pump forgeries via an informal network. It looked and gauged right, but the gears and shafts weren't hardened! Over thirty years ago the FAA warned about forgeries of forged parts for helicopter collets. How do we know our new balljoints won't snap? Wish we had an equivalent of Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval for our old car parts. I'm commissioning one "restored" 750 Giulietta and finishing another one myself. So far ball joints have ceased, brakes have failed, carb spacers have cracked, and latches have failed. What next? A whole driving season was lost. Not fun!

map2050 New Reader
11/6/22 4:25 p.m.

I'm not doing a restoration, but I am refurbishing a '92 Mazda MX-3 GS with the 1.8 aluminum V-6. And I am trying to keep the budget in check so I don't go too far past the market value. I wasn't looking for a project as I have more than enough things to keep me busy. But this car found me via Market Place. It kept appearing as I searched for other items. So as the price came down to a more reasonable amount I decided to go take a look. It was donated to a non-profit by a local family who stopped driving it in 2006. It is not running and the story was the fuel pump is suspected as the problem. It has a solid body with faded paint; a musty interior that is virtually complete and not abused. I felt it likely would be scrapped out. It would be good garage companion to my '91 Miata. I'm waiting until spring to attack the mechanical things as I don't currently have garage space cleared. The interior was very dirty, but is cleaning up beautifully. I'm sure I'll need new caiipers, master cylinder, slave cylinder, maybe a gas tank along with the fuel pump. OEM parts are available for most of these items, with some OEM not significantly higher than aftermarket. However, I find big differences in timing belt/water pump kits. It is kind of overwhelming deciding where the sweet spot is in the balance of quality and value. Even "direct fit" is not always true. I bought a upper radiator hose from NAPA for my grandson's '06 Sentra 1.8 S and while fit it properly the outside diameter was just a bit thicker to the point that I could not reinstall the OE spring clamp. Had to put a worm-drive clamp on instead. Hoping I can get this MX-3 road worthy and reliable with out going crazy financially. Anyone have recommedations as to high quality Japanese parts in the aftermarket?

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/11/22 11:33 a.m.

In reply to map2050 :

First, wow, very cool, rare find. I'm trying to think when I last saw a V6 MX-3 in the wild.

How has parts availability been?

With my Japanese cars–Miata and a long line of Civics–I have just been going with O.E. stock parts, down to the wiper blades. 

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