Mr. Allan R. Morgan
Morgan's Auto Body, Inc.,
200 68th Place
Capitol Heights, MD 20743
Dear Mr. Morgan:
This responds to your letter to L. Robert Shelton, Executive Director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), asking three questions about the regulation of aftermarket parts. Your letter was referred to my office for reply. Each of your questions is answered below.
Question 1: Has the U.S. Department of Transportation (the "Department") issued any guidelines or adopted any regulations governing the use of aftermarket parts in the auto body repair business?
NHTSA is the agency within the Department of Transportation that regulates auto safety. We will therefore answer your questions about the Department by discussing NHTSA's activities in this area.
Our answer is no, we have not issued guidelines or regulations restricting use of aftermarket parts in the repair of vehicles, except as noted below. NHTSA has the authority to issue safety standards for both motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Most Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) issued by the agency apply only to new vehicles. However, certain standards apply to parts and equipment, whether they are installed in new vehicles or sold in the aftermarket. Examples of these standards are Standard No. 106 (Brake hoses); Standard No. 108 (Lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment); Standard No. 109 (New pneumatic tires); Standard No. 116 (Motor vehicle brake fluids); Standard No. 205 (Glazing materials); and Standard No. 209 (Seat belt assemblies). If an item of equipment that is regulated by a safety standard were used in the repair of a vehicle, the item must be certified as meeting the applicable standard.
NHTSA also regulates motor vehicle safety defects. The defect provisions we administer apply to both motor vehicles and motor vehicle replacement equipment, including items of aftermarket equipment that are not regulated by a safety standard. Under 30118 of Chapter 301 of Title 49 of the United States Code, "Motor Vehicle Safety" (49 U.S.C. 30118), if a manufacturer or NHTSA determines that an item of motor vehicle equipment contains a safety-related defect, the manufacturer would be responsible for notifying purchasers of the defective equipment and remedying the problem free of charge. Thus, NHTSA has the authority to order recalls of aftermarket crash parts, whether they are made by the vehicle manufacturer or by an independent parts manufacturer.
We also note that our regulations do prohibit manufacturers, dealers, distributors, and repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable FMVSS (49 U.S.C. 30122). This provision does not, however, concern replacement parts or systems that were made inoperative due to a vehicle crash.
Question 2. Has the Department conducted or contracted for any safety studies on vehicles repaired using aftermarket parts?
The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently issued a report on replacement crash parts. The report identifies several studies of replacement crash parts, but notes that their results do not resolve the issue of safety. The report contains recommendations "to strengthen NHTSA's ability to detect and order the recall of unsafe vehicle parts." A copy of this report is enclosed for your information.
In addition, in 1990-91, NHTSA's Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (OVSC) addressed the issue of possible adverse safety aspects of the use of non-original equipment manufacturer replacement sheet metal components in some detail. OVSC sent interrogatory letters on this subject to the three major then-domestic automobile manufacturers, seeking test data as well as the answers to questions on the issue of whether replacement sheet metal components, such as fenders, hoods, and doors, could possibly reduce the crash protection provided by a vehicle.
Although all three manufacturers indicated concern about this issue, none produced any test data in response to NHTSA's original inquiry. Ford Motor Company (Ford) reported that it had performed some studies on non-OEM replacement part fit and finish, structural quality, and corrosion. Ford stated that these tests indicated that the parts were not equivalent to original equipment, but also reported that it had not conducted any tests to determine if vehicles equipped with these replacement parts would comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards. General Motors Corporation stated that it had not performed any safety testing on non-OEM crash parts. Chrysler Corporation (Chrysler) representatives met with OVSC on this issue and subsequently conducted limited testing to observe the effectiveness of an offshore-manufactured hood with respect to a vehicle's compliance with FMVSS No. 219, "Windshield zone intrusion." No windshield zone intrusion was noted during the test.
During this inquiry, NHTSA also received a letter from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a private not-for-profit organization established by the insurance industry, which described testing that IIHS sponsored in 1987 on a Ford Escort with cosmetic body parts (such as the grill, left and right front fenders and front door sheet metal) removed and a "competitive hood" installed. IIHS reported that the vehicle complied with FMVSS Nos. 208, 212, 219, and 301 by a wide margin, and concluded that the data clearly showed that the use of cosmetic body parts, whether made by an OEM or a "competitive factory," did not affect the safety performance of the vehicle.
Question 3. Is the Department aware of any civil cases involving the use of aftermarket parts in auto body repair?
While we have not conducted an exhaustive search of this subject, NHTSA is aware of at least one class action lawsuit concerning aftermarket parts brought in Illinois state court against the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. A copy of the court's opinion in the case, Avery, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 746 N.E.2d 1242 (Ill. Ct. App., 5th Dist. 2001), is enclosed for your information.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any questions, you may contact Robert Knop of this office at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel