Multiple certification programs for aftermarket parts raise concerns
Miami—Consumer group support may be wavering for proposed federal legislation that could curtail automakers’ ability to use design patents to limit the sale of non-OEM crash parts, aftermarket parts distributors were told at a recent industry event.
“Right now, they don’t see an industry working hard to protect consumers from poor quality and unsafe parts that they were afraid of when I got them to join us [to support the legislation],” Jack Gillis, of the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA), told non-OEM parts manufacturers and distributors at the recent Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA) convention.
If enacted, the proposed federal Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade and Sales Act, or the PARTS Act, would slash the time that automakers can use design patents to prevent other companies from producing non-OEM versions of patented crash parts from 14 years to just 30 months. Gillis was one of four witnesses who testified in support of the bill at a hearing on Capitol Hill back in February.
“Why does a fender bender have to cost you $2,000 to $3,000 to get your car fixed? One reason is the cost of the parts,” Gillis told lawmakers at the hearing. “An unpainted door from Toyota costs the same as a Sears refrigerator.”
Gillis spoke at the hearing in his role as director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, one of five consumer groups that he said support the PARTS Act. (Gillis did not, until he was questioned by lawmakers later in the hearing, identify himself as also the executive director of CAPA, which certifies the non-OEM parts he was there advocating for.)
But he told ABPA members at their recent convention that the coalition of consumer groups he helped bring together to support the legislation – including Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety — now may be questioning their position.
The reason, he said, is that the non-OEM parts industry has two parts certification programs: the one administered by CAPA and another administered by Michigan-based NSF International. Gillis also noted that several other parts manufacturers and distributors also have their own “quality assurance” parts programs – and, in some cases, insurers are accepting the parts in these various programs as equal.
“Consumer groups believe that when industries adopt multiple standards for the same product, there is in fact no standard,” Gillis said. “With the proliferation of a virtual alphabet soup of standards, they see little focus on quality and safety.”
Gillis noted that any manufacturer who sees multiple “standards” being accepted as equal in the industry is naturally going to look for the one that’s easiest to meet.
“It signals a race to the bottom as market players seek the cheapest and least onerous standard,” Gillis said. “Consumer groups need to see legitimate and effective effort at consumer protection. Quite frankly, they believe most insurers care more about bottom-line profits than overall quality. They see [parts] distribution channels supporting multiple standards as a mechanism to increase sales at the expense of safety and quality. And they see the industry rapidly lowering standards.”
That threatens the “already tenuous” coalition of consumers groups he said he “took great pains” to build in support of the PARTS Act, Gillis said.
Gillis’ assessment was challenged at the meeting by parts industry consultant Dan Morrissey.
“I thought in a previous conversation you told me the consumer groups will do whatever you tell them,” Morrissey told Gillis.
“That could have been wishful thinking on my part,” Gillis responded. “Maybe what you heard me say is they trusted me.”
Gillis and Morrissey also clashed at the convention over Gillis’ support earlier this year for proposed Maryland legislation (later withdrawn by its legislative sponsor) that would have prohibited the use of non-OEM parts on vehicles less than two years old. The bill also would have prohibited the use of non-certified aftermarket parts, and Gillis said that is what won him over.
“The bill wasn’t perfect,” Gillis conceded. “The two-year thing was ridiculous. But it represented such an incredible change in the attitude of some of our most outspoken critics the Washington Metropolitan Auto Body Association, which chose to include [in the bill] a set of requirements that CAPA would easily meet. Had it passed, it would have strongly encouraged the use of CAPA-certified parts. Which for those [distributors] who have those parts, bingo; you’d be in the catbird seat.”
But the bill also had requirements for those entities actually certifying parts. Those requirements may have excluded the NSF International parts certification program, which ABPA helped create in 2010 in part because of dissatisfaction with the CAPA program. That led Morrissey to question Gillis’ support for a bill that might have helped CAPA but could have harmed the non-OEM parts industry as a whole.
“It seems to me that these actions you’re taking are some sort of revenge because we now have two certification programs,” Morrissey told Gillis at the meeting.
Gillis said he just wants to make sure the aftermarket parts industry considers the potential consequences of having multiple certification programs.
“Industries may have all kinds of different standards, and when that happens, generally what follows is regulatory action,” he said. “Those standards are generally all over the place, and so in effect aren’t really a standard. That’s a concern to consumer groups.”
In addition to certifying non-OEM parts, Michigan-based NSF also has a program to certify the distributors of those parts. At the ABPA convention, NSF’s Bob Frayer discussed what led to the program, citing a problem that has previously been voiced by many shops: non-certified parts being delivered when certified parts were ordered.
Frayer said the NSF parts certification program includes spot checks of parts actually in the marketplace to ensure they are consistent with the versions certified by NSF. He said NSF sets up accounts with vendors to order such parts so that vendors “thought they were delivering them to a repair shop.” But of the first 10 such parts NSF ordered, only three of the parts delivered were actually NSF-certified.
“That sort of opened my eyes up and I said, ‘Does that mean we have shops out there ordering certified parts, and we have insurers out there who think they are getting certified parts on these vehicles, when in fact, 70 percent of them are non-certified parts?’” Frayer said. “I realized that’s maybe why we don’t see more certified parts being used in the marketplace, because shops are getting parts that are non-certified, but they think they’re certified. They’re having a bad experience, and they think, ‘We’re not using certified parts any more because the last time we used them, they didn’t fit,’ when in fact those were non-certified parts.”
Frayer said that’s what led to NSF’s development of the certification program for distributors, which includes requirements to ensure parts are warehoused in such a way that certified and non-certified parts are clearly identifiable.
“If a certified part is ordered, that’s what has to be delivered,” Frayer said.