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Status Report, Vol. 35, No. 2 | SPECIAL ISSUE: COSMETIC REPAIR PARTS | February 19, 2000 Subscribe

Cosmetic repair parts are irrelevant to safety

If car crashworthiness isn't influenced by whether or not a vehicle's cosmetic crash parts are on the car or removed, then it follows that the source of the parts also is irrelevant to crashworthiness. This is demonstrated in a new test of a Toyota Camry from which the front-end cosmetic parts were removed.

Before detailing the crash test, here's a little background: A car's cosmetic repair parts (often called crash parts) include fenders, door skins, bumper covers, and the like. In the continuing debate about whether such parts from aftermarket suppliers are as good as cosmetic parts from original-equipment manufacturers, the issue of safety keeps cropping up (see "Test shows cosmetic parts do not affect safety compliance," Nov. 21, 1987). Claims are made that using cosmetic crash parts from sources other than original-equipment manufacturers could compromise safety. But the fact is, the source of the parts is irrelevant to safety because the parts themselves, except possibly the hood, serve no safety or structural function. They merely cover a car like a skin.

"The safety claims are red herrings to try to frighten people. With the possible exception of hoods, there are no safety implications of using cosmetic crash parts from any source," Institute president Brian O'Neill says. Car hoods can affect occupant safety in a crash or even without a crash. But there's no evidence that hoods from aftermarket suppliers fail to perform as well as original-equipment hoods.

To again demonstrate the irrelevance of safety in the cosmetic crash parts debate—such demonstrations have been conducted before — the Institute recently tested a 1997 Toyota Camry from which the front fenders, door skins, and front bumper cover were removed. The original-equipment hood was replaced with a certified hood from an aftermarket supplier. The test results then were compared with results involving a 1997 Camry with its original-equipment parts intact.

Both Camrys performed with distinction in 40 mph frontal offset impacts. Both earned good crashworthiness ratings according to the Institute's evaluation procedures. This means a Camry that doesn't have any of its front-end cosmetic parts is rated better than most competing midsize cars that still have such parts.

Vehicle with cosmetic parts
Vehicle without cosmetic parts

These photos, taken after the 40 mph offset crash test, show how well the driver space was maintained in both Camrys. The space was maintained regardless of the presence (left) or absence (right) of cosmetic crash parts.

Detailed results of the performances of the Camrys in the offset tests were similar. During each test, researchers recorded measures on the driver dummy to assess the likelihood that people in on-the-road crashes would be injured. These measures were similar. The dummy in the Camry without its cosmetic parts recorded slightly lower results for leg injuries, but the differences were well within the expected range of test-to-test variability.

After each test, researchers also measured intrusion into the occupant compartment. There was slightly more intrusion in the footwell of the Camry without its cosmetic parts (again, the differences were within the range of test-to-test variability), while measurements of instrument panel and A-pillar movement were almost identical.

Control of the crash test dummies and measured steering column movement also were similar. In each test, the dummy's head hit the B-pillar during rebound. Head acceleration from this impact in the Camry without its cosmetic parts was lower.

Both the original-equipment and aftermarket hoods performed well, buckling as they're designed to do. Neither one was pushed back anywhere near the windshield, so front-seat occupants in real crashes similar to these tests wouldn't be endangered.

"There essentially was no difference in crashworthiness performance. Both Camrys were rated good. The cosmetic parts didn't influence the results," O'Neill points out. "Only three other midsize four-door cars we've tested match the Camrys' crashworthiness ratings. In contrast, 10 cars in this class are rated acceptable, 2 are marginal, and 11 are poor. So a Camry without cosmetic parts offers more protection in a serious frontal crash than many competing cars with all cosmetic parts supplied by the original-equipment manufacturers."

Crashworthiness evaluations, 1997 Toyota Camrys

With cosmetic parts Without cosmetic parts
Overall evaluation
Restraints/dummy movement
Injury measures
Left leg/foot
Right leg/foot
Injury measures Steering column movement Measures of occupant compartment intrusion
Head Chest Maximum tibia index A-pillar movement Instrument panel rear movement Footwell intrusion
HIC Peak gs from hard contact Maximum compression (mm) Peak gs, 3 ms clip Left Right Upward (cm) Rearward (cm) Rearward (cm) Left (cm) Right (cm) Left (cm) Center (cm) Right (cm) Footrest (cm)
1997 Toyota Camry
with original-equipment
cosmetic crash parts
470 127 36 39 0.57 0.68 5 2 2 3 3 11 12 11 4
1997 Toyota Camry
without cosmetic
crash parts
582 40 37 36 0.48 0.60 3 4 2 3 3 16 18 13 9
Earlier tests without cosmetic parts
Crash tests of a 1987 Ford Escort and 1995 Vauxhall Astra without cosmetic parts yielded similar results to the recent Toyota Camry test.

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