REPORT OF THE AUTO DAMAGE APPRAISERS
On March 21″ and March 28th 2000 the Auto Damage Appraiser Licensing Board “Board” held an informational hearing at the request of the Commissioner of Insurance Linda Ruthardt regarding the safety and availability of after market parts (see Notice of Hearing Appendix #I). The March 21, 2000 hearing was held it the Abssabet Valle3, Vocational High School, Marlboro, Massachusetts and the March 28, 2000 hearing was held at Conference Room A of the Massachusetts Division of insurance, One South Station, Boston, Massachusetts.
The Board thanks all of the over 350 interested citizens who attended the two days of hearings and especially sends a big “Thank You” to the 47 individuals and organizations that testified and submitted statements of interest to the Board. It is very easy to discern after listening to the testimony, reading the submitted statements and viewing the two videos that great effort and expense were incurred by the parties in an effort to project their respective viewpoints. A particular comment must be made by this Board regarding the video and presentation by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; an insurance industry sponsored entity. The video and supporting testimony made a convincing case, at least with respect to a 1997 Toyota Camry, that if the original sheet metal parts i.e. fender, grills and doors skins are removed from a 1997 Camry the remaining safety cage will still protect the occupants of the vehicle with nearly the same degree of safety as when the sheet metal parts are still attached to the Camry. The graphic crash contained in the video and the colored pictures certainly do redeem the title of the Pamphlet “Cosmetic Repair Parts Irrelevant to Safety” but do little to answer one of the questions before this Board, “Do after market parts affect safety?” The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety could better serve the citizens of Massachusetts and the entire country if they would utilize their money and testing expertise to conduct a test crashing a Camry (or other auto) that has been totally repaired with after market parts. The video of such a crash would be an enormous help to the Board and similar Boards in every state that are trying to determine the safety of after market parts. Such a test or tests when compared to a similar test or tests involving an originally equipped auto would more than likely answer many of the questions raised during the hearing. Questions such as “Do after market fenders perform differently than the original fenders in a crash? Do after market bumpers and radiator supports affect air-bag triggers? Are after market hoods and their latches as strong as the original?” The public interest demands truthful answers to the above and other questions regarding after market parts. The health and welfare of every occupant of every repaired auto is at risk until the answers are available. The Board urges that the testing of after market parts versus original equipment parts should be done as soon as possible by the Federal Highway Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or by some other credible testing entity. In a similar manner the video submitted by Volvo of North America that compared an original Volvo hood to an after market hood was very enlightening to the Board and probably to everyone who views the video, but the testing was very limited in its scope and therefore so are the implications to be drawn regarding the safety of the after market parts. The Volvo test was not an actual crash demonstration, but a test performed on a laboratory rig utilizing computer simulations. The question naturally arises “did Volvo only test the cheapest or most poorly made after market hood?” The video would be a much more convincing piece of evidence if Volvo had tested every available after market hood and had shown how each one of the after market hoods reacted during a crash. However, the Volvo video clearly does show the hidden danger inherent in the use of an inferior part. The after market hood in the video “buckled just like the original” but then proceeded to enter the passenger compartment during the crash while the original hood did not.
The main purpose and focus of the Board’s hearing regarding the safety of after market parts is to protect the consumers of Massachusetts. Currently, Massachusetts’s consumers are not protected by any federal or state safety standards when they purchase an individual part for their auto. One fact that clearly emerged from our hearing was that the Federal Government does not have any standards for individual parts that must be complied with by manufactures. Quality standards do not exist for either the original equipment manufacturers or after market manufacturers. Individual parts are not crash tested or otherwise certified by any agency of the Federal Government. The Federal Government has only set compliance standards for the overall vehicle and for certain assembled components of the vehicle, i.e. front & rear bumper assemblies and air bags. Massachusetts’s automobile owners have the right to use whatever parts he or she wishes to repair their damaged vehicle. If a damaged part cannot be repaired, obviously the use of an used/salvaged original equipment part is the most socially beneficial choice and has the Board’s strongest endorsement. A used/salvaged OEM part is of like/kind and quality to the damaged part. In fact, it is identical to the original, it fits the same, it is environmentally safe and it is usually cost effective. The Board is of the opinion that all appraisers, insurance company and auto body shops, should first prepare any appraisal with the intent of using used/salvaged OEM parts whenever and wherever possible.
If a used/salvaged OEM part is not available or if it is not cost effective to use it in the repair process then the Massachusetts automobile owner like every other automobile owner has to decide between an aftermarket or an original equipment manufactured part. For most owners the decision is based on cosmetic or cost factors and not on the basis of safety. The safest choice may in fact cost the consumer more money. It is the objective of this Board to present a report based on the evidence presented on the safety risk involved in deciding to use after market parts. It is not our intention to ban their use or to ignite a crusade against their use. In fact the Board voted 4-0 that after market parts have a meaningful place in the repair of an automobile. Also, the Board recognizes and shares the Insurance Industry and Auto Repair Shops concern that automobiles are repaired in the safest manner possible. The Board however, is compelled by the evidence presented to reach certain conclusions about certain after market parts.
After market parts can be divided into two major categories, crash parts and mechanical parts. Mechanical parts are in essence, those parts of an automobile that are not welded or bolted on the body, and usually they have moving parts. Brake assemblies, engine components and shock absorbers are good examples of a mechanical part. Crash parts are usually bolted or welded onto the frame assembly and can be classified into two sub-groups: structural crash parts and cosmetic crash parts. Fenders, door skins and grilles are good examples of cosmetic crash parts. Bumpers, bumper supports, radiator supports, and frame rails are good examples of structural crash parts that are frequently damaged in an accident. The Board did not receive any testimony regarding mechanical after market parts and therefore did not make any motions with respect to their use.
A damaged structural crash part that is not property repaired or replaced, will because of its inherent function with respect to the automobile certainly affect the safety of the automobile. Reliable physical evidence with respect to the safety of after market structural parts is hard to come by as is attested bv our earlier comments regarding the Volvo video and the Institute of Highway Safety Video. It must be noted that the Board did not receive any evidence that could be termed “scientific evidence” to support the conclusion that structural after market parts are unsafe. Rather, the Board was presented with several examples of after market structural parts that were clearly not the equal of OEM parts with respect to their weight, methods of reinforcement or bracing and thickness of metal. These parts, because they are lighter, thinner and less braced are clearly not of like/kind/quality to OEM parts. Common sense, the testimony of numerous auto body repair technicians who recounted very similar anecdotal experiences, and the parts in evidence compel the Board to reach a conclusion by a 3-2 vote that “structural after-market parts are not of like/kind/quality to OEM parts and therefore, the use of after-market parts may compromise the over-all safety of the vehicle” if it is in a subsequent auto accident.
It is interesting to note that the Certified Automobile Parts Association (CAPA), an insurance industry sponsored entity that provides a certification program for after market parts has certified very few structural after market parts. For example, of the entire Veng line of after market parts for Ford manufactured vehicles listed in the latest available Veng catalog only nine (9) structural after market parts out of the 956 after market parts listed with a Veng Part # are CAPA certified. Of the nine (9) CAPA certified parts only three (3) are positively structural after market parts (radiator support), the other six (6)are header panels that may or may not be structural depending on the vehicle. There are listed in the same catalog 103 CA-PA certified cosmetic crash parts i.e. primarily doors shells, fenders bumper covers. Equally interesting to note is that there are no front or rear bumpers, bumper re-enforcement or other structural parts on the CAPA certified list even though they are available from Veng for nearly every Ford vehicle. The very few number of CAPA certified structural parts is strong albeit indirect proof to this Board and the residents of Massachusetts that they are not of like/kind/quality to the original parts. The full impact of structural after market parts on the safety of a vehicle is as we have previously stated, hard to measure given the available testing data available to this Board but again common sense dictates that the Board must recommend that after-market structural parts be used only if the automobile owner is fully aware of their use and of their possible deficiencies. Structural after market parts should not be allowed to masquerade around this Commonwealth as being like/kind/quality parts that are simply made by a competitor of the original manufacturer. The Board urges all of the after market part manufacturers and their distributors to pay less attention to price (cost) of their parts and more attention to raising the quality of their structural parts to at least the CAPA certified level and ultimately to the original equipment standard of performance.