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Letter to the Editor: The Case for Aftermarket Parts

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Consumer choice is key to a thriving automotive repair market. Independently produced, or aftermarket, auto parts that are high quality and tested for safety offer a lower cost option for consumers and repairers across the country. Collision repair shops understand that in today’s market, consumers expect and demand choices for major investments, such as their vehicles. High-quality, safety-tested aftermarket parts give them those options. These parts also support the work of independently and franchise-owned repair shops, many of which are small businesses fighting to recover after the pandemic.

While the original auto manufacturers, or OEMs, try to paint aftermarket parts as inferior products, this simply isn’t true. Most aftermarket collision parts are engineered to perform equally in form, fit, function when compared to OEM service parts. 

The Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) has certified over 128 million replacement parts. 

“For over 30 years, CAPA’s priority has always been to ensure that high quality, certified aftermarket parts are an option for insurers, repairers, and ultimately consumers,” said Clark Plucinski, CAPA chairman. “Without these high-quality alternatives to OEM parts, it is more likely that more vehicles would be considered ‘totaled’ simply because they would be too expensive to repair using only OEM parts, and that’s not good for consumers or the collision repair industry.”

Parts producers, distributors, insurers, and consumer advocates agree and are pushing for greater consumer choice in the post-collision repair market through groups like the CAR Coalition, which is pursuing federal legislation that would preserve consumer choice in the post-collision repair market. The CAR Coalition’s Executive Director Justin Rzepka said these companies put their parts to the test, literally. “Aftermarket distribution companies, like LKQ and other ABPA (American Body Parts Association) members, distribute from high quality ISO registered companies that provide aftermarket collision parts that are engineered to perform equally in form, fit, and function which directly relates to safety expectations. Research shows that aftermarket auto parts do not compromise vehicle safety and are on par with automaker parts, earning quality scores for structure, injury measures and restraints.”

And yet, automakers continue to raise unfounded concerns regarding the quality and safety of aftermarket auto parts, often while overlooking their own vehicle recalls. 

Mike O’Neal of Diamond Standard said companies like his produce parts for both original manufacturers and aftermarket distributors. 

“Considering that these parts are often produced by the same manufacturers, it’s rather ironic that automakers openly question the safety of aftermarket parts,” he said. “Does this mean they are questioning the safety of their own parts, too? It’s a canard they have used for too long and it should be challenged.” 

One of the reasons consumers often go with an aftermarket part is because of the cost. These parts are as much as 15 to 50 percent less expensive than OEM parts, according to a 2019 ABPA filing with the Federal Trade Commission. In recent years, the costs of auto repairs have increased dramatically. This was true even before the pandemic. These rising repair prices are squeezing consumers, who are keeping their vehicles for longer than before. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, vehicle repair costs are up more than 60 percent since 2000. 

Rzepka of the CAR Coalition said there’s a reason consumers expect choices. “Consumers want options because they are watching their bottom line. A vehicle is often their biggest investment, after their home. They want the best, but they want to be the ones who decide the best choice for their own vehicle. Importantly, federal lawmakers are increasingly recognizing these issues are a priority for their constituents. A recent survey of DC policymakers found overwhelming bipartisan support for Right to Repair, with 89 percent indicating they’d support legislation to allow consumers to get their vehicle repaired where and how they choose, and require automakers to make vehicle data readily available to consumers and repair shops.” 

The automakers’ efforts to undermine aftermarket parts doesn’t just hurt consumers, it hurts small businesses, especially independent auto repair shops, across the country. In 2020, 91% of approximately 160,000 independent auto repair shops in the U.S. reported a decrease in revenue. Consumers have been putting off repairs but are now looking to resolve delayed maintenance issues. Independent repair shops believe consumers should have choices when they make repair decisions, according to Bill Hanvey, President and CEO of the Auto Care Association.  

Automakers’ efforts to undermine consumer confidence in aftermarket parts is an effort to control the market and limit consumer options. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has noticed and recently called for a halt to unfair practices that restrict consumer choices. In July 2021, the FTC unanimously voted to increase enforcement against restrictions that limit consumers’ right to repair. 

Paul McCarthy, President and COO of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, said policymakers are taking note of this issue and beginning to act. “The FTC vote this summer is a clear signal that the automakers will not be allowed to continue their unfair practices restricting consumer choices. Policymakers are waking up to these tactics and will not tolerate them much longer.” 

With growing inflation, supply chain issues and an ongoing pandemic, these issues are not going away. Lawmakers are likely to continue asking questions about how to create a better automotive repair market with more options and lower costs for consumers.   

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