Thursday, 19 March 2015 00:00

ABAC Teaches Senator Blumenthal About Imitation Parts, Senator Asks DOJ to Investigate

In February, CNN’s investigation into unsafe repairs performed with aftermarket parts at preferred shops, due to insurer pressure, generated a lot of attention from the general public and government officials. One person who took particular notice was Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. He has asked the Department of Justice to investigate repairs that may have been performed with imitation parts that could possibly result in unsafe vehicles being returned to the road. Seeking to understand the issue of imitation parts in greater depth, Senator Blumenthal turned to the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC).

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On Saturday, February 28, Senator Blumenthal visited ABAC President Tony Ferraiolo’s A & R Body Specialty for a lesson on imitation parts and to hold a press conference. Ferraiolo notes, “Senator Blumenthal has been a long-time supporter of ABAC ever since he was CT’s Attorney General. Like LA and MS’s Attorney Generals, he has always been very consumer-oriented, and he has been a major proponent of our ‘your car, your choice’ slogan. He promotes this idea in ads he produces and in radio interviews and he is trying to alert the public that using imitation parts is not in the consumers’ best interest.”

Ferraiolo clarifies that their battle is not against all aftermarket parts, as some may be viable and safe to use, but their issues are specifically with imitation parts made for crash repairs. He claims, “No imitation parts I’ve seen in my twenty-five years of business matches up to the original manufacturer part.”

In order to demonstrate the differences to Senator Blumenthal, Ferraiolo set up several imitation parts and OEM parts to perform a comparison. When examining two hoods and the necessary replacement parts, Ferraiolo noted that the welds were smaller on the imitation parts and the latch connection was weaker.

“Our biggest demonstration was a reinforcement beam for a Ford Mustang,” Ferraiolo says. “We were able to bend the imitation part with pliers, but we couldn’t budge the OEM part. Senator Blumenthal held the part to find it was noticeably lighter which creates obvious potential to negatively impact the safety of the repair.”

When investigating the headlights, Senator Blumenthal could see an apparent difference in the shape, color and intensity of the beam. Ferraiolo also informed the senator about the lack of effectiveness in the aftermarket parts recall process. Because no entity monitors aftermarket parts recalls, the consumer has no idea that a part on their vehicle may be defective unless the shop contacts them. In comparison, OEM part recalls are linked to the car’s VIN, allowing vehicle owners to be properly informed of a possible safety issue. Ferraiolo believes that the same recall process needs to be instituted for aftermarket and imitation parts also.

As one of the people in charge of safety recalls at the government level, Senator Blumenthal is working on that issue now. Ferraiolo emphasizes, “even though the parts may look identical, the recall information indicates that the part subject to recall could cause an accident or even death, so this is a serious concern that greatly endangers consumers.”

Ferraiolo explains that no test crash data is gathered to guarantee that these parts perform the same as OEM parts. This issue is compounded farther by modern technology, such as new safety systems. Ferraiolo believes that “Until data substantiates that imitation parts work the same, there is no reason to use them unless the consumer wants them. I don’t see these parts as being like kind and quality. Shops should not use imitation parts until testing is completed on them. We don’t use them in my shop; instead, we inform the consumer that the insurer is requesting them and explain why they are not recommended. If the consumer does not want to use them, the insurer will usually agree. Now, some manufacturers, such as GM, are offering price-matching programs so we can use OEM parts at the reimbursement rate of some imitation parts.”

Senator Blumenthal is pressing the Department of Justice to investigate this issue, and he has also expressed concern with the 1963 Consent Decree. He has been reiterating his message in articles and radio interviews to emphasize the danger of shops using substandard parts. Ferraiolo is “proud to have Senator Blumenthal as our state senator. He’s taking a pretty radical stand against the insurance industry for someone in government.”

Although one local television station was present at the press conference on February 28, the story was deemed “not newsworthy” and never ran. Ferraiolo does not know the reason the report didn’t run, but he finds it “interesting. I can’t understand how something that affects consumer safety isn’t newsworthy.”

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