Unless you're an automobile glass professional or have previously had the occasion to replace your windshield, you probably didn't even know that there are two types of glass when it comes to windshields. That's OK – that kind of information isn't probably all that helpful in your everyday life. In the world of vehicle glass, however, it's an important difference to note. And, if you're about to have your windshield replaced you should know what it means so you can make the best decision.
OEM is an acronym for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and it actually refers to all types of car parts, not just windshields. If a part is OEM, it means that it matches exactly the original part your car came with from the dealer. It also means that it went through rigorous testing to ensure its quality, safety and fit for your particular vehicle.
Aftermarket parts are those that are made by other manufacturers that are not affiliated with the dealer. Because of copyright and licensing laws, these other companies are not allowed to make parts with the exact same specifications as the dealer's manufacturer. Basically, aftermarket car part manufacturers have to change the design of the part, otherwise they'd be in danger of copyright infringement. If you're ever told that an aftermarket part is identical, you're being misled.
Windshields are extremely critical to the overall safety and structural integrity of your car. They play a huge role in protecting you in the case of an accident. There may be other car parts on for which OEM vs. aftermarket doesn't mean much, but the windshield is not one of them. You need to make sure that this integral piece of glass is exactly the right thickness and has a precise fit. Otherwise you're in danger of the glass loosening while driving or not standing up during an accident.
Some windshield repair & replacement companies may try to pretend that it doesn't matter. They will tell you that the aftermarket materials are less expensive and function just as well. Unfortunately, that isn't true. If that was the case, wouldn't all glass shops be using the more affordable aftermarket glass? When shopping around, you must ask the representative what kind of glass they use. If they give you the choice, you should always choose OEM, even if you do end up paying a bit more for it.
In addition to safety, aftermarket glass tends to come with other issues. Customers I've spoken to who've gone with aftermarket glass in the past have complained about leaks, weird noises and even a distorted appearance or different color, which can be very distracting while driving. Those who drive leased cars should pay special attention here: many dealerships will not accept a car back that has an aftermarket windshield – it compromises the quality of the car and they can no longer use the same guarantees. Think about what that says about aftermarket windshields.