Consumer Reports And Aftermarket Crash Parts Suppliers At Odds

October 4, 2010

The use of aftermarket collision repair parts is on Consumer Reports' mind this month, in the October 2010 edition of the magazine. The publication takes on the quality of non-OEM bumper beams and radiator supports, as well as other internal structural parts related to the bumper which are components of the crash protection system.

The parts in question comprise a system that not only absorbs the impact from a collision, but also plays an important role in what is known as the “crash pulse”--which is the manner in which the impact energy is distributed throughout the vehicle, preferably to the airbag sensors and away from the occupied cabin.

The issue dates back to July, when Ford reported that its engineers had found alarming differences in both the construction materials and performance of bumper bars and radiator supports sold by aftermarket suppliers to auto body shops. Ford tested their findings in computer simulated tests and according to Consumer Reports, “the fakes changed the timing of the crash pulse, which might affect airbag deployment.”

The products rating organization’s conclusion was very clear in its advice to vehicle owners stating, “Don't let your insurance company pressure you into using aftermarket collision-repair body parts, especially safety-related ones.”

As might be expected, the Automotive Body Parts Association is concerned about the Consumer Reports position and has responded with a letter to the magazine sent by the co-chair of its legislation and regulation committee. In it, as reported by Search Auto Parts, the ABPA official questioned the validity of the tests on not only the fact that they were computer-generated--as opposed to laboratory tests--but also on the propriety of accepting Ford’s opinion, considering its financial stake in the acceptance or rejection of the aftermarket parts.

David Zuby, chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), was quoted in both the CR article and the article containing the account of ABPA’s response. CR used his remarks to support the use of OEM parts exclusively. However when contacted by Brian Albright, the author of the piece containing the response, he was clear in his remarks that while changes to the front of the vehicle could affect crashworthiness, “It's possible to re-engineer structural parts so that they will perform the same as OE parts."

According to Search Auto Parts the IIHA has been working with the Certified Auto Parts Association to crash-test vehicles whose parts have been replaced with ones supplied by the aftermarket. So a comparison to existing OEM crash data may be in the offing. Zuby said that these tests may be completed by year's end.

[Consumer Reports, Search Auto Parts]

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