The Jack in the Box

Unknown to most drivers, the repair of a collision could pose safety risks greater than the accident itself. This is because one’s insurance company may limit the cost of repairs to using parts made by manufacturers other than the one that built their car. These are known as aftermarket or imitation crash parts. While it is common knowledge that the auto parts market is lucrative, the imitation parts business is even better – particularly if you can force consumers to buy your parts.

The aftermarket body parts industry, which is essentially a business dominated by Taiwanese manufacturers, gets its market share from insurers that by and large limit claims settlements to repairs using their parts. While these so-called competitive parts do offer cost-effective alternatives for consumers without insurance, they fall short in the context of an insurance claim. The reality of these parts and the term pre-loss condition creates quite a breach due to the quality issues surrounding generic parts.

These parts are not only cheap replacements; they can be dangerous, as Dan Dellarova from Berks County, Pa. discovered. He was driving his 1988 Honda Accord on a freeway when its hood suddenly sprung open due to a failure of its welded hood striker dangerously inferior design. Unbeknownst to Dellarova his car had its hood replaced by the previous owner with an imitation part made by Conjoin Key, a leading supplier of these parts. The part was also certified by what is presumably an independent third party, the Certified Auto Parts Association (CAPA), whose funding comes primarily from the insurance industry. It has long been CAPA’s contention that these outer body sheet metal components play no role in the safety of the vehicle or its occupants. However, the former owner of this Honda may have grounds to dispute that claim after getting a face full of hood at 65 mph.

The hood’s striker was pulled away from its welds on the underside of the hood. An original Honda hood would never have failed in this manner because it is not welded to the hood. It uses a more elaborate and expensive mechanical means to fasten the striker to the hood. It would be virtually impossible for one to fail like this.

The CAPA certification has long been the subject of controversy in the repair industry. The fact is their operating revenue comes solely from parties with a vested interest in the sale of these parts. What’s even more suspicious is that the parts are never crash tested, fit to the cars for which they are intended, or subjected to any real scrutiny with regard to their design or manufacture. To obtain the CAPA Certified seal for an imitation part, a manufacturer needs only to buy an in-house quality control process as approved by CAPA, which is used on a voluntary basis. Basically one can purchase a certification.

Given the fact millions of vehicles’ hoods share this hood latch design, and the rate at which vehicles are damaged in collisions, conceivably there are hundreds of thousands of these hoods on our nation’s roads. In fact, statistics tell us 1 in 10 cars on the road had a collision repair at some point. And of those, a large percentage may have been repaired with parts of questionable origin and design.

Since the facts about this one hood were exposed, consumers and body shop owners from all parts of the world have come forward with their own stories of hoods flying up – or completely off the car in some cases. Consumer Reports broke their own story on Shoddy Auto Parts in its January 1997 issue, featuring Dan Dellarova’s Honda and its now infamous Jack In-the-Box Hood. Class action law suits began to be filed against insurance companies that would insist on the use of these parts, despite of the clear danger to their policyholders. In 1999 a Marion, Illinois jury came back with a verdict for $1.2 billion dollars against the nation’s biggest property and casualty company, State Farm Insurance Company, for their insistence on the use of these parts. A number of similar cases are pending against other companies.