Insurance firms 'put Northern Ireland lives at risk with cheap parts for car repairs'
Motorists' lives are being put at risk in Northern Ireland by the widespread use of cheap car parts, a new investigation has found.
The Northern Ireland Bodyshop Alliance (NIBA) said it has become common practice in recent years for insurance firms to order garages to replace damaged vehicle body parts with replica parts as a way to cut costs and that many consumers were wrongly assuming the parts fitted in the aftermath of a collision were genuine.
The leading industry body also said it was now deeply concerned about driver and passenger safety after analysing the results of the region's first major independent study into the issue - and it is now campaigning to make consumers aware of the practice and bring it to an end.
A comprehensive report and analysis, published today, concluded that the 'Non-Original Equipment Manufacturer' or 'Non-OEM' car parts may not perform as well as manufacturer-approved parts if the vehicle is involved in an accident.
Leading independent engineer and author of the report, Alan Deering, said quality and safety were interlinked.
"In this substantive study, and from the analysis and testing undertaken, it is my opinion that there were notable differences between OEM and non-OEM parts tested, which may affect performance, and, ultimately, the safety of drivers and pedestrians," he said.
"If it were my own car, I would request OEM parts. I would certainly feel more comfortable with these than if non-genuine parts were fitted, as the best quality can only be assured in this instance."
Commissioned by NIBA, which represents more than 50 independent car repair garages and more than 200 professional mechanics, the probe was undertaken by consultant engineer Mr Deering. The independent research compared, tested and analysed genuine, or manufacturer-approved, parts and the non-genuine replica parts which are commonly installed in vehicles in Northern Ireland without the owner's knowledge or consent.
It concluded that real differences existed between the genuine and non-genuine panels tested which could affect how well they fit and could reduce their performance in an impact situation.
Engineers who undertook the study were wary about the use of several installed non-genuine panels at one time which they said created a heightened chance that the vehicle may underperform, corrode more quickly or be more vulnerable overall. The parts used - in this instance, body panels - were subjected to rigorous mechanical, chemical and microscopic testing to determine the findings. In each of the various parts tested, which were installed in a Ford Focus, a Volkswagen Golf and a Peugeot 206, the differences between the performance of genuine and non-genuine parts were stark.
NIBA Chair, Richard Hastings, said the study highlights the real dangers involved for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists in Northern Ireland.
"Many car owners will no doubt be shocked to learn that insurance companies are trying to cut costs by having non-genuine parts fitted rather than the manufacturer's parts after they have been involved in a collision," he said.
"This report underlines our assertion that the practice, which can compromise the car's safety integrity, is completely flawed.
"Drivers who have been unfortunate to have been involved in a collision - no matter who is at fault - should also be concerned that the practice can often affect the vehicle resale value and limit or invalidate the car's warranty."