Mr. Michael D. Quinn
Vice President Consulting Services
Body Shop Video's Business Development Group
4346 Woodland Ave.
Drexel Hill, PA 19026
Dear Mr. Quinn:
This is in response to your letter asking several questions about automobile replacement parts. Specifically, your letter is directed to "crash" parts such as fenders, hoods, and other body components that are manufactured by companies other than the companies that manufactured the original equipment (O.E.M.) parts. Before responding to your specific requests, I would like to provide you with some background information regarding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA)regulation of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment.
Pursuant to Federal law, 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301, NHTSA is responsible for promulgating and enforcing safety standards applicable to new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment. Under this authority, NHTSA has promulgated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 30112(a), a person may not manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce, or import into the United States any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless it complies with all applicable safety standards and is covered by a certification of such compliance. This prohibition applies to new vehicles and equipment. Section 30112(b) provides that the prohibition does not apply to the sale of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment after the first purchase of the vehicle or equipment for purposes other than resale.
Your letter notes that non-O.E.M. parts are often less expensive than O.E.M. parts and that body shops are often encouraged by insurance companies to use these less costly components. You have asked several questions which are repeated below and followed by an answer.
Question 1. Does the United States require that replacement crash parts on automobiles (e.g. fenders, bumpers, hoods etc.) be crash tested for crashworthiness?
No. The vehicle manufacturers are required to certify that vehicles and equipment they produce meet all applicable safety standards. Some of the vehicle standards set performance requirements for vehicles in certain types of crash tests. However, these standards apply to new vehicles and do not require testing of replacement parts such as fenders, bumpers and hoods that may be used to repair a vehicle. (Safety standards do apply to some replacement parts, such as lamps.)
However, 49 U.S.C. 30122 specifies (in pertinent part) that a motor vehicle repair business:
may not knowingly make 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 motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter...
This section prohibits repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative any device or element of design installed in compliance with a safety standard. However, it does not impose an affirmative duty on repair businesses to repair vehicles in a manner that restores their original performance. I note, however, that NHTSA has long recommended the repair, restoration, or replacement of all safety systems that may have been damaged in a crash. The individual States may regulate the repair of used vehicles.
Question 2. If not, should they be allowed on the streets and highways, posing a possible threat?
NHTSA has not conducted any studies of the effect, if any, that non-O.E.M. "crash" parts may have on the ability of vehicles to comply with applicable standards. If the design or configuration of a replacement part obviously compromises a vehicle's compliance with a standard, e.g., omitting or obscuring a side marker lamp, such a part should not be used by a repair business.
Question 3. Does the United States require product testing of imported goods for the safe use of its citizens?
Answer: Whether a particular imported product must be tested under federal law is dependent both on the product being imported and the regulatory scheme of any federal law or agency that regulates that product. In regards to motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment, Chapter 301 does not require testing prior to sale and does not authorize the agency to require such pre-sale testing. Instead, manufacturers (this term includes importers) are required to certify that all products sold in the United States, whether manufactured in the United States or abroad, comply with all applicable standards. These standards largely apply to completed vehicles rather than equipment or replacement parts and there are no standards that apply directly to sheet metal body parts unless these parts are integrated into a vehicle before sale to consumers.
Manufacturers are under a continuing duty to remedy any vehicles or equipment that do not comply with an applicable standard or contain a safety related defect. NHTSA routinely performs compliance testing to determine if vehicles or equipment meet applicable standards and, if evidence of a defect exists, conducts investigations to determine if manufacturers or importers should provide a remedy.
Question 4. Does the NHTSA, in its investigation of auto crashes have any data to support that non-original equipment automobile replacement parts will withstand an impact, as good as the original parts by the manufacturer? Thus, clearing these shops of this liability?
Answer: Assuming that your question is limited to "crash" parts as described above, NHTSA has not conducted any studies or investigations specifically dedicated to determining the ability of replacement body parts to withstand an impact when compared to O.E.M. parts. We suggest that you consult with a private attorney concerning potential liability.
I hope that this response is helpful. If you have any questions, please contact Otto Matheke of my staff at (202) 366-5263.
Acting Chief Counsel