The Results of Ford’s Aftermarket Parts Testing

July 1, 2011
Powertrain and collision product marketing manager for Ford’s customer service division

The March 2011 Collision Industry Conference (CIC) meeting in Secaucus, N.J., featured yet another presentation on the aftermarket versus OEM parts issue. This time, the aftermarket took the podium. The Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA) presented test results from 5 mile per hour (mph) and 35 mph crash tests.

FenderBender sat down with Paul Massie, powertrain and collision product marketing manager for Ford’s customer service division, to discuss Ford’s view on the aftermarket’s latest parts testing.

The ABPA recently conducted crash tests at MGA Research Corp., the same facility used by OEMs. What problems did you notice with the ABPA’s testing?

In Ford’s crash test presentations to the CIC, we backed up all of our test results with part numbers, prices, teardowns and pictures.
We were told by the ABPA that the aftermarket 2005–2009 Mustang front bumper beam used for their 5 mph test was aluminum. We have not been able to find any of those parts in the marketplace. If it is aluminum, it is a new part that was not available in the market at the time of our 5 mph and 8 mph tests.

That is most likely the difference between their test results and ours. If they stand behind the aftermarket bumper beam we tested, why didn’t they use that part for their test to prove us wrong?

The ABPA showed convincing video that demonstrated an aftermarket bumper reinforcement absorbs the crash energy in a 5 mph test. In fact, it outperformed the OEM part.

During our November 2010 CIC presentation, we showed our video of the 6 mph component level sled test for both the OEM and aftermarket bumper beams. The videos clearly showed the OEM beam hit the wall, crush a bit, and rebound with very little deformation. The aftermarket bumper beam crushed completely flat at the frame rail connection points offering far less resistance.

The ABPA presentation made claims that the aftermarket beam did a better job of absorbing energy than the OEM bumper beam. Our video clearly shows this not to be the case. The aftermarket part doesn’t absorb the crash energy the same as the OEM, so more energy passes further into the vehicle and other components. This was further proven in our 8 mph test. There was visible damage to the aftermarket vehicle’s frame rail while there was none for the OEM-equipped vehicle.

Ford has made comments regarding concern of unintended airbag deployment when aftermarket parts are used. The ABPA reported that the airbag did not deploy during the 5 mph crash test. How significant is that result?

Remember, the vehicle’s safety system that deploys the air bags and pretensioners are calibrated for the structural characteristics of our bumper beam. It’s not just about being stronger or softer; it’s about being the same so you get the same performance from the total system.
We have made no claims about airbag deployment for the aftermarket bumper beam at 5 mph. Our concerns regarding unintended airbag deployment were found as we moved up to an 8 mph test. We completed an 8 mph test because these low-speed events are where the bumper beam plays a major role in crash management versus other safety system components.

Why didn’t the ABPA do an 8 mph test so they could make a clear comparison to our test? Why did the ABPA only perform a 5 mph test?

OK, so the APBA didn’t conduct an 8 mph test. Don’t the results from the 5 mph test still prove there is no increased potential for unintended airbag deployment at low speeds when aftermarket parts are used?

They do not understand the type of modern sensor systems with front accelerometer crash sensors, and how this will be impacted by the use of a different structural component on the front of the vehicle.

The OEM part causes a broad, gentle slope in the crash pulse. The aftermarket part results in a later, steeper slope in the crash pulse that is interpreted by the system as a higher speed, higher energy impact. Those differences caused by the tested 2005–2009 aftermarket Mustang front bumper beam are likely to result in an increased number of unintended airbag deployments.

Some people in the industry believe Ford chooses the worst possible parts to test just to glorify the testing results. How does Ford choose which specific aftermarket parts to test?

For our latest efforts, we started with the Ford parts Toby Chess demonstrated on at the January 2010 CIC meeting.

We ordered parts from an aftermarket distributor’s inventory. The distributor selected the parts, and we selected the testing applications based on the Toby Chess demonstration.

What are the specific parts numbers, manufacturers, countries of origin and distributors of aftermarket parts Ford has tested?

We prefer not to list individual companies. We did supply specific part numbers to the audience during our presentation at CIC to help reinforce the validity of our tests. At this point, we prefer to focus on the broader issue of finding ways to ensure customers are given the opportunity to make informed choices about the parts used for their vehicle repairs.

OEMs claim their replacement parts are safer than aftermarket parts. But 95 percent of the parts sold by the aftermarket have nothing to do with safety, and bumper reinforcements make up less than 2 percent of the aftermarket’s sales. Why is safety the main issue?

Today’s modern vehicles are engineered as comprehensive safety systems. That means many components, including many that were previously considered cosmetic, play a role in how the vehicle performs in a crash.

But the aftermarket claims that no injuries or fatalities have ever resulted from the use of an aftermarket part.

They have no way of knowing that, nor do we. Based on what we know, most of these investigations probably don’t focus on the brand of parts on the vehicles involved in accidents.

That might be the case, but even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has the ability to regulate aftermarket parts, has determined that aftermarket crash parts are not relevant to occupant safety.

We’ve been asking regulators to investigate this issue more closely for some time. To this point, they have chosen not to.

Let’s switch gears to another issue. Auto manufacturers are securing 14-year design patents on simple repair parts—like hoods, fenders and bumpers. If “like kind and quality” is the goal for replacement parts, it doesn’t seem fair that Ford is being awarded those design patents.

Ford invests millions of dollars in the design of these parts and we are just protecting this investment from theft. The aftermarket argues they should be able to copy parts because it is less expensive.

“Just because technology has enabled the copying of auto parts less expensively, that shouldn’t be a reason to do it. That’s what U.S. laws protect.”

Just because technology has enabled the copying of auto parts less expensively, that shouldn’t be a reason to do it. That’s what U.S. laws protect.

The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) is trying to change the U.S. patent law so that providing parts to restore a consumer’s vehicle back to pre-accident condition would not be considered an act of patent infringement. This seems like a good idea to ensure consumers have access to more affordable parts. Why does Ford disagree?

A change in patent law would hurt the U.S. economy. It tells foreign companies that it’s OK to make copy parts for all sorts of products. This would make it an open season to clone cell phone parts, computer batteries and golf club heads, for example.

We’re opposed to any change in the law. We think it would be bad for American business. It would hurt the suppliers that make many of these parts, the dealers that sell them, and ultimately, American drivers.

The AM says that if car companies attain their monopoly of parts, it will add more than $3 billion each year on repair costs. Won’t this cause insurers to pass those increased costs on to their policyholders in the form of higher premiums?

Modern vehicles and OE parts meet demanding standards for safety and other performance criteria. Vehicles in general could be more affordable without such regulations. But there are good reasons we engineer our vehicles to such high standards for our customers.

The insurer’s role in all of this is to spread risk. There are roughly 190 million vehicles on the road covered by insurance. If we divide $3.25 billion by 190 million vehicles, we come up with an average savings of $17.14 per insured vehicle per year. That equals a $1.43 average savings per month, or 5 cents per day per insured vehicle. The difference to a customer is about equal to buying a piece of bubble gum each day.

Ford is helping to reduce the overall cost of collision repairs by virtue of design and technology improvements.

Aftermarket parts help prevent total losses of vehicles so that shops can retain more work in their bays. Without those parts, how likely is it that repairers will begin to see more cars totaled out?

Used vehicle prices have much more to do with whether or not a vehicle is totaled than which parts are used. The average difference of repair cost in which non-OEM parts are used is less than 3 percent compared to when OEM parts are used.

Insurers have more to do with driving traffic to a body shop than Ford’s design patents or parts prices. Body shop traffic is primarily a function of the number of vehicles on the road, the number of vehicles that are insured, the number of miles driven, and deductible amounts. Insurance data shows claim counts continue to decline from a poor economy and fewer insured vehicles.

But still, there are instances in which a lower priced part could avoid a vehicle being totaled. If Ford believes aftermarket parts are not the way to go, what is the company doing to offer competitive pricing to the industry?

We identify the highest volume competitive parts twice a year and put them on our truckload program. That program lowers the list price on those parts to everyone.

We also offer our Collision Conquest II program, which targets highly competitive parts and lowers the price offered to our dealers. They can pass those lower prices on to their body shop customers.

Both the dealer and body shop need to use OEConnections’s Collision Link tool [at] to take advantage of this program.

Some manufacturers of alternative parts also manufacture OEM parts. How is it possible for these parts to be manufactured under the same roof?

Genuine Ford original equipment replacement collision parts are made on the same tools and dies as parts used in new vehicle production. The same manufacturing processes and raw materials are also used.

No aftermarket brand can say this regardless of what supplier their parts are made by. We have checked twice the last few years, and no Taiwanese aftermarket manufacturers are used to make any Ford North American product collision parts.

Ford has also criticized the use of recycled parts. How can Ford stand behind those comments when the company had the Greenleaf program for three years, in which it sold recycled parts?

Ford saw Greenleaf as a strategic advantage on a number of fronts. The purpose was not primarily for used vehicle parts, although that was one element. We did limit the kinds of parts Greenleaf could salvage and sell. Salvaged airbags could not be sold, for example.

Consumers have the option of buying products that vary in quality in every other industry. Even if aftermarket parts don’t perform exactly like OEM parts in a crash, shouldn’t it be the consumer’s choice of how they want their car repaired?

Ford competes every day in the most competitive market in the world. Ford welcomes competition. It makes everyone better, and it’s good for our customers.

What has Ford done to keep the public and the collision repair industry apprised of the situation?

Our efforts have been to let both vehicle owners and repairers know the potential shortcomings of using non-OEM parts, especially the fact that there are no assurances these parts meet the vast number of regulations that OE parts meet.

Fully informed consumers should be allowed to choose the replacement parts used to repair their vehicles. That is their right.

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