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

Injecting safety into the continuing debate about cosmetic crash parts

Even though safety is irrelevant to the debate about original-equipment versus aftermarket cosmetic crash parts, numerous attempts have been made to inject safety into the controversy. For example:

In a 1999 article entitled "Shoddy Auto Parts," Consumer Reports conceded there are "little data on the safety of replacement parts." Without any objective evidence of safety problems, Consumer Reports relied on anecdotal evidence, of which the article says "there is enough … to raise concern." Yet no convincing evidence was offered.

During consideration of legislation on aftermarket crash parts, a 1999 report from the Florida House of Representatives cited Consumer Reports extensively as well as the views of automakers. A Ford representative, for example, is quoted as saying "no testing has been conducted to verify that the performance of imitation crash parts … in front-end crashes will be compatible with Ford airbag systems … . Because so little is known about the effect of imitation parts on an airbag system and component integrity, Ford believes genuine Ford crash parts should be used."

This statement was issued despite one from Ford's vice president for environmental and safety engineering, Helen Petrauskas, in 1987. She told Institute president Brian O'Neill that "after a review of the information you provided, as well as other data available to us, we have concluded that, in general, fenders and door 'skins' are components whose design or manufacture is not likely to have a significant effect on vehicle safety."

Still, some car company representatives continue to raise the safety issue. For example, a 1997 General Motors statement said "any deviation in the use of parts not specifically designed to meet the original specifications can compromise the integral balance between the safety systems."

According to a bill introduced last year (but not enacted) in the New York legislature, "the use of genuine crash parts (parts manufactured by or for the company that manufactured the vehicle itself) should be required to assure quality, safe repairs. Studies have shown that some alternative parts create unnecessary safety risks due to improper fitting." However, neither the studies nor details of their findings were specified.

Responsible studies linking aftermarket parts to safety compromises don't exist. And, as Consumer Reports conceded, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "hasn't been getting complaints about the safety of replacement parts." In fact, the agency responded to a query from U.S. Congressman John Dingell in 1991, noting that "there are no data or analyses available at this time to suggest a safety problem with aftermarket or replacement components." There still aren't.

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