Is Importing Car Parts from China Still Viable Today?

Filed under: Classic News |

Let’s say you were browsing for auto parts at or any other car part dealer. Whether you have a car made by an American, Japanese, or German brand, chances are that there is a Chinese-made part available for your needs, often available at a fraction of the price of a domestic, Japanese, or European-made alternative. Are these parts truly the bargain they appear to be or are they a risk to your car and your safety?

The answer, as with many questions involving America’s relationship with Chinese manufacturing is — it depends. In the vast majority of cases ultimately it comes down to the quality control of individual manufacturing businesses in China. 

As it stands, if you pick a part from random American or Japanese manufacturers, chances are the quality will be quite high. Do the same with Chinese manufacturers, and you’re liable to get a mixed bag.

However, some Chinese-made parts are of extremely high-quality, as good or better than those made elsewhere. What's more, Chinese manufacturers are getting better every year.

In practical terms, however, if a well-regarded manufacturer is comfortable putting their brand on a car or components manufactured in China, then it must mean that the parts are at least “good enough”, or even slightly better. Of course, there will be many more who may strongly disagree.

Why are we even worried about Chinese parts?

It’s no secret that no country on earth is as into cars as America. While other countries may be into cars as well, America’s vast spaces, its long culture of individualism, and its car manufacturing heritage have given it a unique car culture that is unmatched by any other on earth.

Because of this, many Americans have an emotional connection to their cars and to domestic manufacturing. With the negative reputation some Chinese manufacturers have had over the years, it’s easy to see why many Americans are concerned about the ever-growing proportion of Chinese car parts on the market.

Passionate discussions about car minutiae are commonplace among American car enthusiasts. But in recent years, even the Ford vs. Chevy debates seem more level-headed compared to discussions on the safety and reliability of Chinese-made cars and car parts. This question has been distressing to a few people, as in some cases, parts of Chinese origin may be the only available choice for a given purpose.

As car ownership is a crucial part of the American identity, many Americans and, indeed, foreign enthusiasts of American cars have had some very strong opinions about this current trend. 

Many see this sense of identity as important for the workers and the quality of their output as well. An American autoworker may feel pride making a part for GM in an American factory. A Chinese worker doing the same for GM in China may not feel the same, especially if they’re not compensated in the same way as the American worker. Does this pride necessarily create better results in terms of quality than a stricter QA process? Again, it all depends on the situation.

Why do American companies manufacture cars and parts in China?

Regardless of the feelings of many American car enthusiasts, more and more car and car part manufacturers are setting up shop in China, with the intent of selling these products in the American market. These companies also include large American companies such as GM and Ford, as well as well-regarded foreign non-Chinese makers such as Volvo and Honda.

There is also widespread use of Chinese-made parts in cars that are manufactured and assembled within America. When you buy an “American-made” car made in the past 10 years, chances are that a good proportion of the parts, particularly the electronic components, are sourced from OEMs based in China.

So what gives? Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that we demand cheaper cars. Adjusting for inflation, cars today are not only relatively more affordable than they were before, but they’re also packed with features that would have been unthinkable in cars from just 30 years ago. The lower labor and operating costs of setting up shop in China, in many cases, more than offsets the overseas shipping costs and allows manufacturers to sell arguably better cars for cheaper.

However, cheaper labor is only part of the reason car manufacturers continue to invest in China. Another reason is the Chinese market itself. China is the world’s fastest-growing market for cars — and American brands are extremely popular there as well. It just makes sense for American manufacturers to move more capacity there to serve that market, thus reducing many of the associated transportation and logistics costs as well. If current trends continue, and if the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks more havoc than expected on the domestic car industry, we will likely be even more dependent on China for our auto parts.

Of course, that gives little comfort to the Chinese car part skeptics there. But one thing that’s undeniable is that most Americans who buy Chinese cars and car parts are quite satisfied with them, at least for what they paid. The fact is, “good enough” Chinese parts are really good enough for most people who just need their car to get them from point A to B. And emotional and political arguments in favor of American, Japanese, and German manufacturing aside, as time marches on, the quality of Chinese auto parts will only improve.

The future of Chinese car parts

In any case, today, no one questions the competence of Chinese manufacturers when it comes to the laptops or smartphones you may be using to read this. Unless a particularly disruptive trade war or some other global catastrophe somehow changes things, we are likely to see more car parts come from China. And given that cars are a less complex technology than either of those things, it may not be too long before Chinese car parts are seen as true peers of their American counterparts.