Replacement parts – true to type?

What would be the outcome if a wider array of replacement parts were subject to Type Approval?

By Neil Pattermore | Published:  28 December, 2017

The aftermarket has developed for well over a century to provide choices to the vehicle owner concerning how their vehicle is repaired, with an increasing choice of replacement parts and emanating from all of this, ‘affordable mobility’ for vehicle owners and drivers.

However, this may now be under threat, and with it, the very basis of your business as a part of the  aftermarket value chain. In the past, replacement parts have principally been in one of three categories. First, lower cost items without any specific requirements – other than they fit and work. Second, parts which are specifically designed to be of matching quality that directly emulate the original part. Thirdly, original (OEM) replacement parts that formed part of the original vehicle design when it was type approved.

This choice and availability of spare parts is provided by both local and national distributors who provide a wide range of replacement parts that allow vehicles to be serviced and maintained throughout their life, with the lower priced parts becoming more popular as the vehicle gets older. The UK Consumer Rights legislation imposes that any part, which now also includes any digital content, must be ‘fit for purpose’ and cascades into a ‘duty of care’ and ‘liability’ between the parts distributor, the garage and the vehicle owner.

Under review
Unfortunately, there is a cloud on the horizon. The existing vehicle Type Approval legislation is currently under review in Brussels and although the existing version contains requirements for some replacement parts to be type approved, it is being proposed to implement an extension of these Type Approval requirements to cover more replacement parts. The Type Approval of these replacement parts is deemed necessary to ensure that vehicles continue to comply with their original ‘whole vehicle Type Approval’ requirements throughout their service life and is seen as an increasing issue with automated systems and autonomous vehicles.

Existing type approved replacement parts include windscreens, tyres, headlamps, catalysts, exhaust systems, DPFs and brake disks, drums, shoes and pads. These all show an ‘E’ mark that confirms where they were tested to meet type approved requirements, e.g. E1 is Germany. System and component Type Approval requires that a ‘sample of the Type to be Approved’ is tested by the ‘Technical Service’ (i.e. a test centre) to the requirements of the relevant European Directive, which is increasingly now based on the UNECE Regulations agreed in Geneva. Its technical specification is documented and that specification forms part of the approval. Both the parts distributor and the workshop need to be confident that an audit trail back to the original replacement parts manufacturer’s certificate exists to prove that the part is legitimately type approved to protect their own liability, should they be challenged to prove that the part’s Type Approval marking is legitimate.

This proposed widening of the replacement parts Type Approval is not a simple problem. Apart from braking components being covered under UNECE Regulation 90, there are no dedicated test methods for these replacement parts. This creates two significant issues. Firstly, when a vehicle is type approved, it is the system that is tested (i.e. engine emissions, steering, braking etc.) but for replacement parts, it is not clear what specific replacement item should be type approved. For example, should it only be the principle components such as an electric motor, or would it be just a bolt or washer that helps secure a steering rack? Secondly, as there are no test methods established, would this mean that a component could only be tested on a complete vehicle and if so, unless it is a new vehicle, how do you know if other components on that vehicle are working correctly?

Clearly, it is not clear.

Burdens and costs
This proposal also means significant additional burdens and costs to complete these new obligations which ultimately will have to be paid for by the consumer. This is likely to lead to increased cost of servicing and replacement spare parts, but without any direct benefit to the consumer over what is happening in the market today. It would also mean that specific design and functional specifications would need to be provided by the vehicle or system manufacturers, which is likely to raise intellectual property and design rights issues.

Enforcement will be a market surveillance issue, but there are limited resources available from the Governmental agencies, so all workshops would now need to be confident of the legitimacy of the Type Approval marking of components before installation. This has already led to dawn raids on parts distributors in some European countries. Ultimately, this proposal is likely to impose less choice for consumers, as fewer parts manufacturers would risk the cost/volume investment, with higher prices for those parts that remain available.

From the vehicle manufacturers‘ perspective, they conduct whole vehicle Type Approval which includes all systems and their inherent parts and components. For the vehicle manufacturer’s replacement parts, they are deemed to be Type Approved if they are identical to those fitted to the original type approved vehicle. For aftermarket replacement parts,  each replacement part would have to be tested for each of its applications, meaning not only finding examples of the actual vehicles, but also the test centres that can conduct the Type Approval testing. There is a real proportionality’ issue here, especially with no dedicated test methods for the Type Approval of these replacement parts.

Reduced choice
Behind this issue, some vehicle manufacturers and also some Member States consider that although vehicles are subject to Type Approval, aftermarket replacement parts are not and this is deemed as being both unfair and un-regulated. It is claimed that by Type Approving aftermarket replacement parts, that it will create a level playing field for all replacement parts, but I don’t agree –  it seems to me that the vehicle manufacturers have the most to gain and that it will ultimately be the consumer who suffers through having a reduced choice of replacement parts, which will also be more expensive.

Today, for just about every other part or component of the vehicle there is no current requirement for ‘E’ marking or any form of direct testing to pre-determined standards. If a part is replaced and the vehicle remains safe, secure and roadworthy, it is perfectly acceptable – if aftermarket parts did not fit and work correctly, then they would not be fitted or they may flag a fault code or fail an MOT.

FIGIEFA (the European association of spare parts distributors) have robustly challenged these proposals as both unwarranted and disproportionate. Additionally, they consider that it would distort competition, rather than improve it and would raise costs with very limited benefits. Repair workshops would increasingly buy original parts from their local dealer to minimise any risk of using non-Type Approved parts – undermining the competitive choice of the Aftermarket and increasing consumer costs.

Sorry, but did I miss who would be the major beneficiary from all of this?

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