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New Parts Classification Causes Confusion

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In 2015 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 51 million cars were recalled. That number, paired with the massive Takata recall, which has affected 34 million vehicles in the U.S. and has been linked to at least nine deaths, has brought automotive parts usage into mainstream news and intensified the argument over what types of parts should or shouldn’t be used when performing a collision repair. Some clear lines have been drawn between what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, 14 states have made it illegal to use counterfeit airbags. While some lines between right and wrong are clearly laid out like this, others are more unclear.

Confusing the issue further is a relatively new term to emerge in the past few years: opt-alt OE parts; it’s a loose term, one that can be used to describe surplus OE parts or parts created by an OE manufacturer that don’t quite meet the strict OE standard. The lack of distinction is where the problem lies. While there are many different classifications of parts—original, recycled, remanufactured, non-certified, certified, etc.—many feel there’s a need to make the opt-alt OE part distinction official, adding a third major category of parts to the old standards of OE and aftermarket. Many vendors are already selling parts under this distinction, but the question remains: What defines an opt-alt OE part?

Lack of Distinction

Although a clear definition or classification system is not available, there’s been no shortage of discussion or opinions on the opt-alt OE parts topic.

Rick McLarty and Jaime Ramos, program managers from the Bureau of Automotive Repair’s (BAR) safety division, took part in a panel discussion on opt-alt OE parts during the NACE/CARS Expo & Conference this summer in Anaheim, Calif. McLarty and Ramos made it clear that in compliance with the Automotive Repair Act, BAR does not recognize or accept the term opt-alt OE for a crash part. BAR only acknowledges parts described as new, used, rebuilt or reconditioned for an OE part and classifies any aftermarket parts as non-OE.

Chris Evans of State Farm is the chairman of the Collision Industry Conference Definitions Committee, which was tasked in April to come up with a workable definition for opt-alt OE parts. Evans had a conference call with members of the committee at the end of September, which focused on what an opt-alt OE part was not rather than what it was. The committee decided that the definition would not be based on stakeholder positions and it would not assign good or bad labels for specific types of parts. Instead, two of the conference call participants who work with OEMs offered to bring the discussion to a SEMA roundtable in November. Evans hopes that after that discussion, the committee will be able to craft a definition and classification system.

Until that definition comes, how are shops supposed to know whether or not to purchase and install different types of parts?

Repercussions of Bad Parts

Billy Walkowiak, who founded Collision Safety Consultants, which specializes in post-repair inspections, uses the issue of counterfeit airbags as an example of why parts definitions are critical—not only to the collision repair industry, but also to the safety of consumers.

“Airbags for example—the wrong one could mean that it doesn’t deploy, it’s life or death,” Walkowiak says. Sometimes, he adds, airbags aren’t even installed.

Some states have taken legislative action to address the issue. Washington, for example, is one of 14 states to pass a law criminalizing the selling, installation and manufacturing of counterfeit airbags. Wash. State House Rep. Roger Goodman, who took on the bill as his own, says he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly it passed.

The Blurred Line

Counterfeit parts are not the only dangerous parts on the market, which is what makes classification so important.

Keith Friedman, president of Friedman Research Corporation, conducts research to investigate crashworthiness. Friedman says that there are a number of different reasons that parts are recalled. After all, Takata wasn’t installing counterfeit parts. From what Friedman has seen in his testing, most of the time the problematic airbags are due to the sensing and deployment systems within the car. Counterfeit parts are clearly bad and OE parts are ideal. But what about the parts in between, including opt-alt OE? How should shops go about selecting parts and ensuring proper repairs?

How Shops Can Prepare

As of yet, there’s no clear definition for opt-alt OE parts and there’s been no consensus on exactly what parts are safe to use (genuine OE parts might be the only part the industry can agree on), but shops still have a responsibility to ensure safe repairs. Friedman says that dealing directly with the manufacturer is the only way to go.

If shops decide to go through an alternate supplier, he suggests using resources like the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Dan Hendrickson, communications coordinator for the BBB, advises shops to research the vendors they use to make sure they are selling what they say they’re selling. If there’s any concern about a part and its authenticity, Hendrickson advises that the part is taken to an inspector, like Walkowiak.

Friedman also advises shop owners and consumers against purchasing any product that’s priced significantly differently than the OE. Walkowiak recommends that every shop perform diagnostic scans before and after a repair, to check for any damage that may have been missed.

The consensus was that until a clear definition system is created, the safest route for shops to take when it comes to parts is to deal directly with the manufacturer.

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