The Safety of Imitation Parts

Are replacement body parts unsafe?

That’s a question has not really been addressed.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash-tests new cars. Although NHTSA official Kenneth Weinstein agrees that there’s “clearly a potential for diminished safety” with imitation doors in a side impact, his agency’s standards don’t apply to replacement doors. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also crash-tests new cars. The only replacement part it tested was one imitation hood 13 years ago.

Safety testing (crash-testing) of replacement parts–both OEM and non-OEM–is particularly difficult and prohibitively expensive. There are many possible combinations of replacement parts and original cars. Yet some controlled safety study of these parts should be done to ensure that a car will be as crashworthy after a repair as it was before.

Three types of parts warrant special scrutiny:

When a bumper breaks, as some imitations did even in the Consumers Reports low-speed tests, the car’s safety – and that of the occupants – may be compromised. At the least, headlights and other safety-related equipment may be damaged; at worst, the car may suffer structural damage and the passengers injured. Bumpers may also affect the way the energy of a crash sets off the car’s airbags.

In a 1991 memo, IIHS President Brian O’Neill notified the institute’s sponsoring companies about allegations of knock off door shells made without the guard beams required by federal regulations for protection during side impacts. Even doors that have the beams could be a safety problem if the welds aren’t strong enough or if lighter-gauge steel is used.

When overseas manufacturers copy a hood, they purportedly also copy the “crush initiators” that allow the hood to fold up in a crash rather than slice through the windshield. This is an important safety feature, but hardly any imitation hoods have ever been tested. Volvo did crash-test one, as shown in a 1992 video, and found that it didn’t crumple properly. It intruded into the windshield area, a clear violation of U.S. safety standards for new cars.

Daniel Della Rova’s experience raises other concerns (according to a Consumers Reports article – February of 1999). The latch connection on his car’s hood was more susceptible to failure than the factory latch connection, according to damage appraiser Charlie Barone. Repair shops have reported other hood problems–weak welds, poor seams, and one shop manager had a hood whose top skin separated from its frame.

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