Volume 13, Issue 2 - March/April 2011

Feature

Inferiority Complex

The OEM-Aftermarket Debate Continues
by Penny Stacey


Editor’s Note: This is the second part in a series of articles about the controversy surrounding differences in original-equipment manufactured (OEM) and aftermarket auto glass parts. See November/December 2010 AGRR™ magazine, page 18, for the first installment.

The debate surrounding OEM and aftermarket parts is not a new one—but in recent months it has continued to intensify in light of several new developments. Just this January, Allstate Insurance filed a suit against a Washington auto glass shop and its owners for insurance fraud, and, in the documents of the suit, accused the shop of installing aftermarket parts, while charging for OEM parts.

While that charge has been seen before, in the cases of shops such as Lee and Cates Glass in Jacksonville, Fla., and the nationwide suit filed against Glass Emporium owner Mehrdad Hakimian, the wording of the complaint is what surprised some.

“Defendants never advised Allstate of the fact that it was acquiring the inferior glass products at a reduced rate as opposed to the higher rates being charged to Allstate in the direct billings,” writes Allstate in its complaint. (See related story on page 18.)

Merriam-Webster defines “inferior” as “of poor quality.” So is Allstate saying aftermarket glass is inferior in quality to an OEM part? AGRR sought the opinions of several industry representatives on the quality issue.

“It kind of depends on what you define quality as,” says industry expert Bob Beranek of Automotive Glass Consultants in Sun Prairie, Wis. “If you define quality as fit and appearance, there are definitely differences. If you look at [Federal] Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 205, which is the glazing standard, it talks about the construction of the glass … You need to have a lamination interlayer that withstands the impact of outward obstacles from entering the passenger compartment, and from people inside the vehicle from being thrown out.”

However, FMVSS 205 doesn’t address all of the specifics that might be incorporated into an aftermarket part, Beranek says.

“There’s nothing in the Standard that defines added parts like moulding, or the frit—nothing is added there. Nor is fit, curvature, or any of that is attached to that 205 … ,” he says. “OEM glass has tight specifications that were dictated by the design of the vehicle. Those are plain to see and easily measured. Reverse-engineered parts made by aftermarket glass manufacturers are going to take the specifics they see in the glass, reverse-engineer it and make it work with their procedures and their manufacturing procedures. That sometimes has a little bit of a change. It might be cosmetics, it could be fit, it could be curvature—it could be a lot of different things.”

Sometimes it’s difficult for an auto glass shop to determine whether or not the quality is truly inferior.

“As far as the [aftermarket] glass itself being safe or whatever, I haven’t a clue,” says one Boston auto glass shop owner who asked that he not be identified. “We don’t conduct tests. Mygrant conducts tests and Pilkington conducts tests … but there’s nothing when you buy a windshield that says ‘this is the thickness of the laminate in the windshield and this is the thickness of the laminate in that one.’”

Installation Issues
So how should an auto glass shop, or a technician out in the field, handle this issue? The first key, some say, is for auto glass shop owners to familiarize themselves with its suppliers and the various manufacturers.

“There are high-quality aftermarket glass parts and there are inferior ones,” says Brian Kittrell of Kittrell Glass in Birmingham, Ala.
“We try to research when we can. More often than not we have primary sources that we know can supply OEM-quality glass.”

Industry consultant Russ Corsi, who worked for PPG for many years in the auto glass arena, points out that even if a shop finds a quality supplier, the aftermarket part still may not be made to the exact tolerance of the OEM part.

“Let’s say the off bend for the original-equipment windshield is 2 mm off the fixture, but the [aftermarket manufacturer] might discover that 4 mm off works just fine,” he says. “Aftermarket manufacturers operate in a different realm of specifications that will still work with the installation.”

It’s up to the installer to work with this difference.

“If you ask ‘is [aftermarket] exactly like OEM?’ No, it’s not,” adds Beranek. “But can it be dealt with? Yes, it can, with expertise of the technician.”

The Boston auto glass shop owner agrees. “The most important thing is the guy doing the installation,” he says. “I’ve seen factory windshields installed that were absolutely butchered, and I’ve seen jobs in which the glass was not 100 percent, but you could still do a good, quality job.”

Kittrell agrees. “I think the most important thing is to ensure we do a quality installation,” he says. “As an AGRSS-Registered Company there are certain steps we must follow and keep up with and I think that’s essential to a quality job.”

“There are high-quality aftermarket glass parts and there are inferior ones.”
—Brian Kittrell, Kittrell Glass

Insurer Allowances
While a representative of State Farm Insurance recently testified at a meeting of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) that the company only specifies OEM parts for autobody repairs (see related sidebar below), glass does not always follow the same pattern in insurance claims. The Boston auto glass shop owner told AGRR magazine that he works with some insurers that will pay for OEM glass only in certain cases.

“If there’s a car that has more than 24,000 miles on it, it doesn’t qualify [for OEM glass with some insurers], so obviously I can’t put [OEM] on,” he says. “It puts me between a rock and a hard place.”

Even when insurers won’t pay the full amount, Kittrell offers the consumer a choice—and educates him accordingly. “So many people are price-sensitive, but educating the consumer is important, and being sure they know why I’m $20 higher than the guy down the street is important,” he says. “ … If people are truly concerned about quality and safety, they’ll listen.”

Solutions
While many auto glass technicians and shop owners are dealing effectively with the OEM versus aftermarket issue, some say more is needed than simply expertise among installers. Independent Glass Association (IGA) executive director Mike Russo says he believes aftermarket auto glass manufacturers should be called upon to present proof of like fit and quality.

“We should have the proof that aftermarket windshields are as good and as safe as OEM,” he says.

Kittrell thinks data-tracking is the answer. “I have some databases and a binder we keep here at the office, so I can see, ‘okay, that customer is driving a 2007 Honda Ridgeline,’ and I know who made the glass that went into the vehicle in the factory,” he says.

Russo points out that, in the end, consumer safety is the key factor in this great debate. “Aftermarket windshields may be as good as OEM,” he says. “Again, we are dealing in the business of consumer safety and words do not save lives. Performance saves lives.”


COIL Property-Casualty Committee Votes to Reject Model Aftermarket Parts Law
The National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL)’s property-casualty committee recently voted 11-7 against a model law involving aftermarket crash parts during its spring meeting in Washington, D.C.

Though glass was excluded from the model law’s provisions, the model law would have provided states with a model that would have: required auto body shops to disclose the type of parts being used to consumers and to obtain their consent; established conditions in which insurers could limit their payment to the cost of aftermarket crash parts; and would have mandated permanent, transparent identification of crash parts. Despite the exclusion of glass from the model law and the ultimate rejection of the bill, the heated discussion that preceded the vote provided much insight regarding the many views about aftermarket parts in general—and the intensity of the issue. Much of the discussion surrounded an amendment recommended by Rhode Island Rep. Brian Kennedy that would have required insurers to “ensure that the specified aftermarket crash parts are warranted by the manufacturer or distributor to equal or exceed the car company’s warranty for the crash part.” Kennedy’s amendment also would have noted that “certified aftermarket crash parts shall be presumed to be capable of restoring a vehicle to its pre-loss condition.”

John Ashenfelter, representing State Farm Insurance, stressed the need for testing of aftermarket parts.

“If a customer requests a non-OEM part, we’ll go ahead and put that on,” said Ashenfelter. “But how do we as insurers know that there’s quality upfront? … You only get that with certification.”

Jack Gillis of the Certified Automotive Parts Association advised the committee that the specification of non-OEM parts ultimately benefits the consumer.

“There is nothing wrong with generic products,” he said. “In fact, generic products are a consumer’s best friend.”

A General Motors (GM) representative questioned the model act’s reference to returning a vehicle to pre-loss condition with the use of aftermarket parts. “Just because the law says that doesn’t make it so,” he said.

Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR™ magazine.

 

 


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