The kind of parts we use in auto repair make a difference in the quality of the repair work. Tommy’s policy is to use whatever parts the customer says to use. Usually, the insurance company will pay only for CAPA-certified parts (see below). If the customer is not willing to fight for factory parts, we can’t pay for them out of pocket.
Back in the 1970s, a major insurance company funded Parts of America to copy General Motors and Ford fenders, duplicate them, and sell them cheaper. Parts of America eventually went bankrupt. The insurance companies then went to Taiwan and funded companies over there to duplicate the parts. That is how the whole aftermarket autobody parts industry got started. The problem is that when General Motors builds parts, they have to crash test them. The Taiwanese don’t; they just copy the part, and they don’t do it perfectly. Because General Motors had to do all this research and development, its part will sell for $180, while the Taiwanese will sell their untested version for $140.
The Auto Body Aftermarket Parts Industry
The Taiwanese parts were originally so bad that the insurance industry created CAPA (the Certified Auto Parts Association) to check the parts that these various manufacturers in Taiwan made. The problem is that the criteria for Taiwanese parts are not the same criteria that General Motors uses; it’s whatever criteria CAPA deems “good enough.” So CAPA basically says, “Meet our criteria and we’ll put this little sticker on your parts,” because some insurance companies said they wouldn’t put anything on a car that was not certified. Even though they started the certification company, the insurance industry basically made up the criteria to pass certification. In fact, those of us in the auto body industry have our own name for the parts that are “certified” by CAPA; we call them “Crapa parts.”
The consumer should be aware that most of the CAPA parts don’t fit very well, have never been crash tested, and the plastics they use are problematic. For example, take plastic headlights from Taiwan. They look great, but the screws are made from a cheaper plastic. On a factory-made headlight, when you turn the adjusting screw, it elevates the headlight or turns it in or out. But the Taiwanese screws sometimes break when you screw them in or put pressure on them. We’ve also had customers come back two months later and complain, “Hey, the headlight is not aimed anymore.” We try to adjust it and find the screw is all stripped out.
A few years ago, Consumer Reports had a big article about Taiwanese car hoods that had flown open while the car was being driven, and defects where parts broke off. So CAPA said to the Taiwanese manufacturers, you have to stop making these particular hoods; we’re not going to certify them. But there’s no recall system, so it’s just a matter of luck whether or not these hoods that are already on cars will fly open. We will not put on a Taiwanese hood or any safety item that may affect airbag timing if it’s not top quality.
Many people are not willing to fight for better quality repair parts because they are afraid of their insurance companies. They are afraid of getting their rates increased or having their insurance cancelled. The insurance companies have perpetuated this fear. The people most likely to fight for quality parts are those who are not going up against their own insurance company.
The insurance companies play several odds here. First, the body shop that caters to insurance companies will go ahead and slot the holes a little bit, bend and twist and make things fit. Second, they count on the customer selling the car before it rusts or the headlights turns yellow or go out of aim.
The world is so complicated nowadays that nobody has the time to fight the insurance companies. Customers ask us, “Will the car sort of look the same?” And we have to tell them, “Yeah, it will sort of look the same, but these are some of the things you might want to look out for.” We’ve had some come back years later when Taiwanese parts or insurance-recommended paint operations failed and say to the insurance company, “This didn’t work.” But proving it ahead of time by saying, “We don’t think this will work”… is the problem. The insurance companies say, “Well, we think it will work, and this is all we’ll pay for.”
Quality Replacement Parts
An insurance company usually pushes Taiwanese sheet metal or headlights because they are less expensive. There is no incentive for the Taiwanese to make higher quality parts because they do not compete against each other. Quality Replacement Parts also refers to suspension parts, batteries, or alternators that are sold at NAPA, and these have to be quality parts because they compete on quality. So some Quality Replacement Parts are in fact quality. Auto body aftermarket parts and quality replacement parts are lumped into one category. To us, Quality Replacement Parts means the mechanical parts, while Aftermarket parts are sheet metal and headlights. Economy Parts are basically the same thing as aftermarket parts.
When rubber bumper covers are sent out to a company for repair, they look perfect when they come back, but the trouble is these remanufactured parts don’t function the same. When most rubber bumpers are painted, they have a flex additive in the paint so the bumper can push in and push out a bit – the way a bumper is supposed to function. Remanufactured bumpers have the primer put on too thick so the bumper’s not flexible any more. Six months later, you back into your garage and hit the bumper. The paint cracks and falls off. What you should do is go back to the insurance company and say, “When I had that original accident, the bumper was replaced. The paint is falling off the bumper you paid to have put on.” Sure enough, the insurance company will fix it, but it’s unfortunate that the insurance company will play the odds in the first place.