The recent crash test of a 1997 Toyota Camry into a deformable barrier at 40 mph isn't the first time the Institute has used tests to show the irrelevance of safety to the cosmetic repair parts debate. When this controversy heated up in the 1980s, the safety-related claim of the moment was that cars repaired with cosmetic parts from aftermarket suppliers might not comply with federal motor vehicle safety standards.
The Institute entered this dialogue in 1987, saying "there's no reason to believe — let alone assume — that cosmetic crash parts significantly influence car crashworthiness." To reinforce this conclusion, Institute researchers demonstrated the point in a crash test.
Ford Escort test
A 1987 Ford Escort was crashed into a rigid barrier at 30 mph to measure compliance with the federal motor vehicle safety standards that specified crash test requirements at the time. Like the Camry, the Escort was crashed without its front fenders, door skins, or grille. The original-equipment hood was replaced with an aftermarket part to measure compliance with federal requirements, according to which the hood must not intrude into the windshield or a defined zone around it in a 30 mph crash.
And the result? The Escort complied with all front-into-barrier crash test performance requirements specified in five separate federal standards. It met these requirements with room to spare. There was no appreciable movement of the steering column. Head injury measures for driver and passenger dummies were far below the threshold used to indicate injury likelihood. Chest and upper leg injury measures also were low. Windshield retention was 100 percent. The hood buckled and didn't intrude into the protected zone. Fuel spillage was zero.
Vauxhall Astra test
The Institute isn't the only research group to conduct such a test. In 1995, England's Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre tested a 1995 Vauxhall Astra from which the fenders and door skins had been removed and the hood replaced with an aftermarket part.
The result of this front-into-rigid-barrier impact at 30 mph was similar to the Escort test. That is, the Astra complied with the same U.S. safety standards. According to the Astra's certification report, "comparison of the test vehicle with a previously tested vehicle of identical type tested to the same standard indicated that the presence of 'nonindigenous' panels had little effect on failure mode, as did the absence of the front outer wing panels and doorskins."