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High Performance Doesn’t Mean High Price

When comparing high performance vs. standard replacement parts, it is of extreme importance to weigh performance and durability against value and cost. Long term costs of replacing OEM items with low-priced “budget” items or after-market replacement parts can, in many cases lead to higher consumer long-term costs. It can also lead to irreversible damage to primary and connected related systems. Obviously, if a replacement part is of lower quality and of shorter durability, it will need to be replaced more often. There are costs associated with the labor to replace these parts more often, as well as time lost for actually doing the work of replacing an automotive component. There are other “hidden” costs as well associated with this practice. They may not be costs in cold, hard cash out of pocket, but they are costly, nonetheless.

A good example of this is simply shopping around for spark plug wires for my old Buick. I got in the habit of replacing the wires at least once a year, sometimes more if a problem arose. I go to the Internet and find several varieties of options online and I read the descriptions of what my choices are. They look like this:

Description: Taylor Cable 69.95
8mm Street, Ignition Wire Set, Custom Fit, SST, Blue, Tin Coated Copper Braid, Non RFI, Blue Double Spring Locking Spark Plug Boots, High Temperature Rated To 550 Degrees, Competition Looks, GROUND SHIPPING ONLY

Description: OEM 37.41
Premium Wire Set, Spark Plug Wire Set, OEM Fit And Quality 37.41

Description: Taylor Cable 29.95
8mm High Energy, Ignition Wire Set, Custom Fit, Blue, High Temperature, Oil Resistant, RFI Suppression, 100% Silicone Boot Ends, Double Spring Locks At Plugs, GROUND SHIPPING ONLY

The first thing I notice is the huge difference in price, and like any good spendthrift, I am drawn to the cheapest spark plug wires available. Ignoring the statements about temperature ratings and RFI, I immediately think to myself, without any further research, I may want to buy the bargain set of wires. But then I think I want good wires, and the OEM brand is only eight dollars more. These are the spark plug wires that came with my vehicle, so they must be what I need. I buy them online for $37.41, have them shipped to my house and install them on my vehicle.

I take my old car for a ride, to see how much better it is going to run with the new wires on it. I notice it doesn’t run any better, as a matter of fact, it now has a slight miss in the engine. So I turn off the engine, get out of the vehicle and make sure everything is connected properly. The miss isn’t there anymore when I start the vehicle back up, so I am happy. I turn the radio on to listen to some tunes on the way back to the house, and I can hear the sound of my engine “running” on the radio, like a whining sound, drowning out a portion of the music.

I get back to the house and look at the old wires I took off in favor of the new “original equipment” wires. They don’t look the same. The old ones look heavier and bigger. The next day, I start the car up and the “miss” is back, and the engine “whine” is still on the radio. Frustrated, I put the old wires back on the car and the problems go away. So I go back to my computer and look at custom and high performance plug wires for my old Buick, and here’s what I see:

Spark Plug Wires
Brand: Taylor Cable $108.95
8mm Street, Ignition Wire Set, Custom Fit, Full Metal Jacket, Black, RFI Suppression, Braided Stainless Covering To Polished Aluminum Covers Over Silicone Plug Boots, High Performance, Custom Appearance

Spark Plug Wires
Brand: Taylor Cable $25.95
8mm High Energy, Ignition Wire Set, Custom Fit, Blue, High Temperature, Oil Resistant, RFI Suppression, 100% Silicone Boot Ends, Double Spring Locks At Plugs

Spark Plug Wires
Brand: Accel $99.57
Custom Fit 300+ Race, Stainless Spark Plug Terminals, Complete EMI/RFI Suppression, 600F Temperature Resistance, More Spark Energy, More Power, Spark Plug Wire Set, 8.8mm, Wires Routed Over Valve Cover, Black

This time, I do a little research to find out what I do not understand about the sales descriptions offered. Here is what I find out about the difference in spark plug wires:

OEM wires generally rely on carbon conduction and are also used in the majority of stock replacement wires. This form of ignition wire is cheap to manufacture and generally provides adequate initial suppression for both RFI (radio frequency interference) and EMI (electromagnetic interference). The conduction portion is generally made of fiberglass or kevlar over which resistance conductive latex or sometimes silicone is layered over top. This reduces spark current to provide suppression. This works well while the conductor lasts, but it has a limited life. This type of conductor quickly fails if a high-powered ignition system is used. Temperature resistance is generally in the 550 degree F range.

I also find out that EMI from OEM spark plug wires can cause incorrect signals to be sent to engine management systems and on-board electronic devices. This is why suppression is so important. It works the same way that RFI can cause unwanted signals to be heard on my radio receiver. Engine running problems like intermittent misses to a major loss in power loss can be the result. I also find out that the problem can get worse with age due to corrosion of the sensors and connectors. Also, high performance wires can protect in temperatures as high as 1000 degrees F.

I went back to my Buick and looked at the ignition system. It had not been replaced by a high-powered ignition system. I ordered the Taylor custom 8.8-mm wires with RFI suppression for $25.57.
$11.84 less than I paid for the OEM ignition wires. I installed them a few days later when they arrived and have had no problems at all. In fact, my gas mileage has increased and my responsive acceleration increased. I have had them on my Buick for two years now and they still perform as well as the day I put them on.

Replacing with high performance automotive parts are generally considered upgrades and higher costs are associated with better quality and higher performance. As this exercise taught me, this is not always the case. Higher performance means value-added in the long-term. This relates to better customer satisfaction, better performance and durability, sometimes even less expense, but always a better value and a lot less hassle.

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