While reading HVAC industry publications, I frequently see ads for companies that provide “universal” replacement parts. In this context, universal means that these replacement parts will fit many brands and models of AC and heating systems, but they were not made by the same company that made the original part. In other industries these would sometimes be called aftermarket parts. These universal fit, aftermarket parts often feature settings and mounting hardware that cover a wide variety of applications. Since repairs tend to be more common during extreme (hot or cold) weather, often both homeowners and contractors often get in a rush to get systems going again. Although this topic can be ignored, for the long haul you would do well to be aware of this choice — ask a few questions about parts being used in your system.
In other blogs and pages on our website, you’ll see many references to this fact: there are more brands of new HVAC equipment than there are factories making them. This means that some brands of new equipment have the same or very similar main components as other brands. A few examples of these parts include: compressors, condensers, coils, fans, blowers, controls, and more. For these reasons, the concept of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is less differentiated in the HVAC component and parts industry than in some other industries.
HVAC contractor point of view
For the company doing the repairs, having universal fitting parts offers several advantages. For starters, although many AC and heating contractors will focus on a limited number of brands of new equipment, most will repair ALL makes and models of central AC and heating systems. Universal fit repair parts mean that the contractor can: a- keep less inventory on their trucks or in their warehouse; b- spend less time going for / waiting on OEM replacement parts; c- be more efficient and make more profit on flat rate repair jobs, save money for the homeowner, or some combination.
Homeowner point of view and questions to ask
For the homeowner, the following considerations come into play when comparing OEM parts with universal fit ones:
Availability – is the OEM part available? If not, your decision just got easier — you’ll have to go with an aftermarket or universal fit one.
Cost – now, and over the life of the repair part or your system.
Performance — does the universal fit product fit and work as well — or better than — a replacement original or OEM one?
Warranty – would a non-OEM part void all or part of the original warranty on your system? If yes, is it worth it? If not, what is the warranty on the parts and labor on the OEM part vs. the universal part you are considering.
If you have related experience with this topic, please share them so others can benefit.