Tuesday, 20 September 2016 23:07

VABA President Fights for Like Kind and Quality Aftermarket Parts

Throughout 2016, Mike Parker, president of the Vermont Auto Body Association (VABA), has been engaged in several battles to ensure that the aftermarket parts being certified, sold and installed in consumer vehicles are of like kind and quality as their OEM counterparts.

His efforts have resulted in decertifications and an open discussion on the topic amongst collision repair industry professionals and vendors across the nation. 

In May, Parker called upon the Certified Auto Parts Association (CAPA) to recall all high-strength steel components after using an Ames Rockwell hardness tester to determine that these parts were too hard. Although his sample size was small, he found a significant difference in the tensile strength of these components in 100% of his tests, leading him to conclude that a significant amount of CAPA-certified aftermarket parts are made from different materials than the OEM parts they are designed to replace.  

Arguing that these aftermarket parts are not of like kind and quality, Parker identified the existence of a potential safety risk due to this variance. His tests of a Subaru radiator upper tie bar and a Toyota Tundra radiator support revealed a difference of approximately 16,000 psi/110MPa between the aftermarket and OEM parts, and components that are too hard can be just as hazardous as those that are too soft, as they can cause delays in airbag deployment, skew sensor readings, and alter damage patterns. Aftermarket parts should perform exactly the same as the OEM parts they mimic in order for them to be safe to use during the repair of a vehicle. 

When Parker tested a high-strength steel Chrysler hood, he found that the material used was too soft for a reading, which could inhibit occupant and pedestrian safety. As a result, Parker called on CAPA to decertify, recall and replace these parts as they are not of like kind and quality when compared to their OEM counterparts. In his communication to CAPA, Parker wrote, "Based on this information, I believe CAPA should immediately decertify all aftermarket radiator supports and aftermarket parts intended to replace high strength steel OEM parts, and to recall and replace all the CAPA-certified aftermarket radiator supports installed on vehicles with OEM supports."

In response to Parker's complaint, CAPA defended its testing and stated that certain lots of the Subaru upper radiator tie bars had been decertified after CAPA received complaints about the quality of the part and conducted their own tensile and yield strength comparative tests. 

Responding to Parker, CAPA operations director Deborah Klouser urged shops to submit complaints on faulty parts, promising CAPA would take the necessary actions after they verified that the part does not meet their standards. She also argued that hardness tests are not as accurate as tensile and yield tests for determining the actual strength of the material. 

When a Maine shop owner questioned why the responsibility of filing complaints about faulty parts falls on the repairer, as opposed to CAPA improving its random inspection process, Klouser pointed out, "Because the CAPA program is one that tests every significant aspect of a part to see that it performs the same as the car company brand service part, we work hard to ensure that the standards and tolerances are legitimate, fully transparent, and, most importantly, effective."

CAPA's method of ensuring that standards and tolerances are met includes vetting and approval by CAPA's Technical Committee, which consists of 18 members, including four collision repairers, four insurers, four manufacturers, three distributors, and three at-large members. Klouser invited Parker and any other repairers to visit CAPA's facility in the interest of a transparent look at their processes, and while their transparency is applaudable, it begs questions about the 75% of aftermarket parts that are not certified. 

As the controversy raged, additional factors came to light, including the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) record indicated that the lots of decertified Auto Power aftermarket tie bars were not recalled since there are no requirements for the manufacturer or the federal government to recall a part decertified by private organizations such as CAPA.

When CAPA decides a part presents a potential safety hazard, the organization contacts the manufacturer to recommend a recall, and if the manufacturer does not alert the NHTSA directly within ten days, CAPA will notify the NHTSA. CAPA also regularly updates CAPA Tracker with recall information as a way for shops to stay informed of recalls; else, shops should receive recall information from the distributors so the consumer can be alerted if the recalled component was installed on their vehicle. 

Unfortunately, a decertified part may not show up under that category in CAPA Tracker if the decertification only applies to specific lots. When CAPA identifies a non-conforming part, the organization prohibits the manufacturer from running CAPA-certified production until they validate that the issue has been resolved. Some repairers recommend consumer waivers, agreeing to the use of aftermarket parts on their vehicles. 

In August, Parker engaged in yet another battle against faulty aftermarket parts when he used the Ames Rockwell hardness tester on a Diamond Standard 2011 Nissan Frontier aftermarket rear bumper. Although he found that the aftermarket part was comparable to its OEM counterpart in terms of hardness, Parker identified differences in the design and joining. He stated, "The reinforcement beam was of a one piece construction on the OE bumper where the brackets were welded to the beam. The aftermarket bumper was a three piece construction, and the brackets were bolted on."

As a result, NSF asked Diamond Standard to revamp the part. Although NSF insisted that the bolt-on brackets were equivalent to the OEM part in terms of fit and functionality, they initiated changes with the manufacturer to require welded brackets in order to conform to the original part. Parker confirmed the change has been implemented; however, he was still disappointed with the insurer's refusal to disqualify the part as like kind and quality, noting "a part can be certified, even have the same hardness, and still not be of like kind and quality. Like kind and quality is typically a policy requirement."

Parker continues to fight for consumer safety by testing various aftermarket components to ensure that they are equivalent to their OEM counterparts. He stated, "Although this is really a consumer issue, we have to stop letting anyone muddy the waters with things that don't really matter in the end, like certification. The true measure is like kind and quality."


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