I have been hearing different things, depending on whom I talk to about auto parts. Some people say the dealership parts are higher quality and others say the discount part stores are just as good for less money. The reason I'm asking is because my '84 Buick Riviera needs lower ball joints that my son is going to install. The dealership wants twice the money as the part's store. Is it worth the extra money for the better quality?
With front-end work, like your ball joint situation, I often use outside-brands in order to save money. Always go for the bigger names, like TRW or Moog. I have seen few problems with aftermarket suspension parts and have never bought dealer shocks or struts. Your Buick is hard on lower ball joints, and I hope your son has a really good power chisel to remove the originals. It can be a real project for an amateur.
As far as selecting auto parts in general, it depends on what part and what manufacturer you're dealing with. In my experience, most of the time, manufacturer's parts are of higher quality. They also give you confidence knowing that you're installing the exact same part that you removed. The tough job is to decide if the quality differential warrants the extra cash, and the extra can be a 200% mark up on many occasions. In some circumstances, the part may be a "dealer item" only and not made by other companies due to the lack of demand. In these cases, the only other choice is the junkyard.
Here are a few personal preferences while I'm parts shopping: a) when doing a tune up, I like to go with the original equipment. I have seen cheap air filters that disintegrate or collapse under normal conditions and PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valves that are calibrated incorrectly causing excessive vacuum loss. b) Brake pads and shoes from the manufacturer are often very expensive, but the problems you can avoid by staying away from the $9.99 aftermarket linings are worth the additional money. c) And we can't forget how much fun aftermarket electronic ignition components can be, when they fail prematurely.
Certain factory parts can be purchased at independent parts stores, AC Delco for example. These are General Motors' parts which you can buy down the road at the auto parts store for half the price you might pay at the dealership.