last updated 17/09/2015
With the advent of the internet and China, the availability of cheap components has skyrocketed, and access to shop for them is at our fingertips 24 hours a day. But are they really costing you more in the long run? There is no black and white answer to this question. Like many decisions in life, buying al-cheapo components, for your 4WD or any other purpose, is a game of risk and return. Most of the time you get something pretty close to the real thing, does pretty much what it’s supposed to do and lasts long enough to meet expectations. So what happens for the rest of the time?
Aftermarket support is usually poor for cheap online items. This is the biggest drawback and the biggest pain in the backside when it comes to purchasing cheap alternatives to brand name products. Item doesn’t quite meet specification? Bad luck. Arguing over a warranty claim and return postage? You’re probably better off saving yourself some time and simply writing it off. Stuck out in the bush with a broken component? Then regardless of how good aftermarket support is, you may be up for a major inconvenience or even a dangerous situation.
I’ve fitted out my 4WD with a heap of cheap stuff. Nearly all of it works perfectly even after several years of harsh outback use. One problem was the inverter not being able to supply the specified 2500W continuous power. I argued with the vendor, explained how I tested it, what the load was, etc etc. I measured the current on the 12V input of the inverter, it was cutting out at around 100A. His first response was “100A, that is impossible, the inverter would explode.” I tried to explain some electrical principles and the law of conservation of energy to no avail. I gave up on that tact and just stated the 240VAC output current instead. This he understood, and his next response was “Resistive load requires 7 x starting power. Your inverter is too small.” More arguing that defied the laws of physics, more excuses like “your cable is too small” and “your battery is too small.” It was too hard. I pulled apart the inverter and found the internal terminal connections on the input side to be loose. Tightened them up and problem solved! Should have done that to start with instead of contacting the vendor. I’m still not confident that the inverter can do 2500W continuous, but it does run what I need it to run including a Thermomix. Click here to check out some of the other bits I’ve got for my 4WD. I also have an article to help you with your 12V design and inverter selection.
How to decide whether you should dabble with the al-cheapo? Here are some things I consider:
– Do you need EXACTLY according to specification? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Is the failure of the component catastrophic to you or your equipment? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Will you be running close to or at specified maximum ratings for continuous periods of time? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Is the component mechanical in nature, and relies on precise manufacturing and quality control to successfully operate? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Is the brand name not much more expensive then the no brand alternative? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Will component failure incur costs far beyond the cost of the component? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– Are any potential shortcomings of the component too difficult to adjust, repair and tune yourself? If yes then lean towards brand name.
– An item that does not answer yes to any of above – give al-cheapo a go!
Items that come to mind that are lower risk when buying al-cheapo are electronic devices, with no or few moving parts, probably made from the same chips and components out of Korea or Taiwan that the brand name item is made from. Buying a cheap no brand product does not mean it is not as good as the brand name, and answering yes to any of the above does not mean you should not consider al-cheapo. It could well perform exactly to specification, have a failure rate as good as the brand name, be able to tolerate continuous operation at rated maximums, be built with precise manufacturing and quality control and be super cheap. This is a game of risk and reward – the above points help to picture where the risk-reward ratio sits. The no brander may be a proven product, you might find evidence of good after market support, you might find the specification or datasheet is detailed and unambiguous and gives you confidence. Blanket statements like “it’s not worth the risk” or “you get what you pay for” or “it’s cheap insurance” are not valid. Unless you can predict the future, you don’t know for sure whether the cheap component is worth it or not. Do your research, make a judgement on the risk, make your decision.