Ask the Right Questions to Unlock Your Parts Purchasing Power

In our day-to-day lives, we use countless numbers of products and services. The choice of selecting an off-brand versus the name-brand product that you trust matters greatly for many consumers. This is often the case when purchasing school bus parts.

Do you typically opt to buy an off-brand oil or air filter because it’s cheaper? Or do you call a trusted local dealer or distributor for advice on the best product for your fleet? I personally would recommend the latter. You get what you pay for. This adage is just as true with school bus parts and product support, so buyer beware.

Have you ever secured a great deal online for a product, but it turned out to be faulty, low quality or even counterfeit? When you see substantially discounted prices, in most cases it should raise some red flags about the quality and OEM authenticity of the represented products.

At the same time, realize that it’s not uncommon for many distributors, dealers and OEMs to buy parts or components from overseas suppliers, simply because it helps keep costs down for you, the customer. Be sure to ask your parts partner if the company performs quality testing and validation on the products you’re buying. Do you typically use the same trusted OEM supplier, dealer or independent retailer? No matter the source, you as the customer need to remain proactive with questions.

One fleet manager I spoke with recently said he carefully invested in the better or best quality parts that are available, to help save on long-term maintenance costs. His goal is to reduce wear and tear, which can extend vehicle life for years to come. For him, this trumped saving a few bucks in the short term. Commodity-based, high-turnover products like brakes, seat covers and filters were at the top of his list.

He also recommended double-checking that the products you’re buying meet the engine requirements and recommendations that are listed in your service guidelines and owner’s manuals.

In speaking with school districts and equipment manufacturers from around the industry, I found that everyone has a slightly different opinion about what quality of parts they need or recommend for maintaining their school buses at optimal levels. One consideration that came up often was the choice of buying OEM-certified parts that have a guarantee behind them, or purchasing aftermarket parts that might be of a similar, lesser or better quality.

Price matters to many buyers, so one approach is to ask for a discount when buying in large volumes. For example, if you project the annual purchase of 500 oil filters, consider a bulk order instead of smaller incremental ordering, which might cost you more throughout the year. That savings will likely help offset the cost difference between OEM genuine parts and off-brand parts. Plus, buying in volume prior to price increases can add up to big savings, too.

Another suggestion is to create a consortium of local districts that ensures greater buying power. It might be worth a phone call to neighboring districts and other peers to compare pricing and procurement needs. This could provide everyone in the co-op with savings and the supplier with a large order. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Your choices have the power to affect how your fleet performs, and the service that’s ultimately delivered to the students and their parents. Be sure to challenge your suppliers, dealers, parts distributors and OEMs to share their research on why either a value or quality proposition is best for your school buses. Be price-aware, but also know the benefits of using certified and validated genuine parts. Don’t risk rolling the dice without first asking the right questions.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted from the February 2020 issue of School Transportation News.