Why Not Consumer Choice for Crash Parts, Too?Posted 6/10/2005
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
Replacement crash parts have been ignored for too long in the automotive parts debate.
This discussion has reached a critical point with the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) preparing for its summer meeting in July and a special hearing on aftermarket crash parts. In addition, H.B. 2048, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act of 2005, has been introduced in the U.S. Congress.
The Automotive Service Association's (ASA) position on replacement crash parts - as passed by ASA's board of directors - is as follows: "ASA supports state disclosure laws that require insurers and auto collision facilities to obtain the express written consent of vehicle owners before installing alternative replacement crash parts. ASA supports disclosure statements that alert consumers that the use of alternative crash parts other than those manufactured by the original equipment manufacturer may have an effect on their warranties or market value."
The ASA board establishes a set of legislative objectives annually. Repeatedly the board has affirmed its replacement crash parts stance: ASA supports legislation that prevents insurance companies from requiring the use of replacement crash parts unless the vehicle owner consents in writing.
During its spring meeting in March, NCOIL voted to "renew NCOIL's consideration of a proposed Certified Aftermarket Crash Parts Model Act" and to hold a special hearing on the matter. A copy of the proposal can be reviewed at www.ncoil.org.
The crash parts debate has not been limited in 2005 to the Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) proposal being considered by NCOIL. Other states such as California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have also considered some form of crash parts legislation this year.
ASA proposed a notice and vehicle owner written consent bill following West Virginia's new crash parts law in the 1990s. Automakers have also been supportive of this policy. CAPA's certification legislation has been introduced in several states and opposed by ASA and the automakers.
In surveys conducted by ASA year after year, there has been no clear national message on replacement crash parts policy. States are diverse in their statutes with no policy, notice only statutes, and notice and consent requirements.
The 2005 version of the Right to Repair act, as supported by some auto parts distributors, has diminished considerably in scope from H.R. 2735 introduced in previous congresses. But what is clear in the new Right to Repair act, H.R. 2048, is the emphasis on consumer choice. Highlighted in the bill's Findings and Purposes is language as follows: "Vehicle owners in the United States should have the right to choose between original parts and aftermarket parts when repairing their motor vehicles."
This "right to choose" is not available in many states relative to replacement crash parts. Mere notice statutes requiring arcane language buried in the policy agreements is far from sufficient to provide vehicle owners the opportunity to decide what types of parts are used in the repair of what is for most Americans their second largest purchase - their vehicle.
Parts distributors have opposed ASA's notice and vehicle owner consent proposal in the use of replacement crash parts. Should the vehicle owner's right to choose stop with mechanical-related parts? Why should crash parts be any different?
Since independent repairers have full access to service information on the automaker Web sites and through their third-party information providers, ASA believes this latest version of the Right to Repair legislation is unnecessary. Any legislation protecting the vehicle owner's right to choose parts should be clarified to ensure that this intent includes replacement crash parts.
If Congress considers Right to Repair legislation in this session, with a legislated mandate for vehicle owners' right to choose parts, replacement crash parts should also be included. ASA is hopeful that the vehicle owners' right to choose their replacement crash parts will be part of the hearing and markup process as Congress reviews Right to Repair legislation.
Some insurance companies have testified before the House Financial Services Committee about the need for federal intervention in certain segments regulating the insurance industry. Clearly the obvious gaps in replacement crash parts policy as it is viewed state by state is indicative of the need for a federal crash parts policy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has had ample opportunity to address this issue and has shown no interest. This includes the policing of imported crash parts, any stringent headlight review and the regulation of non-deployed airbags. NHTSA's role in the regulation of crash parts is sorely lacking. Despite its knowledge of the use of non-deployed airbags, NHTSA has not established any national policy as to their use. As for vehicle owner choice, should the owner of a vehicle be made aware that the replacement airbag has been under water for several days?
There is no national replacement crash parts policy. Generally, the vehicle owner's right to choose crash parts in vehicle repair is not being protected in most states. With the federal regulator continuing to shirk any responsibility in this area, it is up to Congress to protect the vehicle owner in the use of replacement crash parts. Hopefully Congress will weigh the importance of the vehicle owner's right to choose all parts used in the repair of America's vehicles.
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