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.’”
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
“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
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
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.”
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
“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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