How Safe Are Your Bumpers?

At least two independent studies suggest replacement bumpers and other safety parts may be less safe than drivers think. Though insurance companies and thrifty vehicle owners may steer toward less expensive aftermarket replacement parts, safety groups suggest always using manufacturer's parts.

The Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) conducted random tests this year that compared aftermarket bumper replacement parts with replacement parts from the original manufacturer.

"In every example tested, there were significant differences in both the construction of, and the materials used ... which can significantly impact the roles that these parts serve in the transfer of energy resulting from a collision," read an SCRS statement regarding the tests. The Certified Auto Parts Association (CAPA) found similar results and is developing independent certification standards for bumpers and bumper reinforcement parts.

The parts in both tests include front- and rear-bumper reinforcement beams, radiator core supports, bumper brackets, and bumper energy absorbers. CAPA found thinner materials, lower strength and hardness, and poorer fit with the aftermarket parts. Honda and other automakers also are warning consumers against buying aftermarket parts.

Some body shops and organizations, including the Auto Body Association of Connecticut, offer free help in determining if you have recalled or unsafe replacement bumpers. The Connecticut group conducts tests approved by the SCRS and the CAPA.

Bob Skrip, president of the Auto Body Association of Connecticut, also tells car owners to demand safety-tested original manufacturer parts. "In a repair, it should be the consumer's choice to require the use of only original parts, made by your car's manufacturer," he said.

Consumers will soon be able to look for the CAPA Quality Seal for aftermarket bumper parts that match the quality and safety of original manufacturer parts. Keystone Automotive is now only distributing tested and qualified aftermarket bumpers and other safety parts.

Auto insurers may be inclined to save money by encouraging cheaper aftermarket parts on repairs, but industry testing and governmental pressure may be pushing insurance companies toward demanding original manufacturer parts. Car owners should also demand reliable manufacturer parts.

California insurance laws require insurers to provide a warranty for aftermarket repairs, but new evidence of inferior safety could push the insurers to review previous claims and repairs. In February, the Collision Repair Association of California (CRA) urged the California insurance commissioner to demand insurer reviews of all claims where aftermarket bumper parts were used and to disclose the use to affected policyholders.

The CRA argues its members have lost business to less reputable body shops and thrifty insurance companies who may be using dangerous aftermarket parts. On the other hand, Geico, a major insurance company, has announced it will no longer use the parts. Other insurers may follow suit.

If you already have potentially faulty aftermarket parts, be sure to thoroughly document any evidence in case of an accident. If possible, photograph the accident scene. Also, exchange insurance information with other parties, and contact a reliable local attorney if you think faulty aftermarket parts may be a factor that contributed to your injuries.