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Ford Motor Company revealed the results of its own testing of OEM and aftermarket crash parts at the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) last week, and its conclusion among the parts tested was that OEM parts were generally of higher quality than aftermarket parts.
The testing was prompted by I-CAR instructor Toby Chess’s technical presentation at CIC in January demonstrating the material difference between OEM and aftermarket bumper beams, radiator core supports and bumper isolators. Since then, there has been much debate in the industry as to the validity of his findings, as well as national media scrutiny of the debate.
“We launched our own investigation based on all this because we were worried that our customers’ safety could be at risk, and we felt we had an obligation,” said Paul Massie, powertrain and collision product marketing manager for Ford. “What we found was that the aftermarket copy parts we tested are inferior and could compromise vehicle performance and occupant safety.”
Massie said parts distributors called for individual structural part testing, but he said that kind of testing doesn’t necessarily indicate how an automobile’s whole system will react in a crash.
“We know what goes into testing. Guidelines set by FMVSS, NHSTA, etc., have to be met before a vehicle is sold,” Massie said. “But they’re not individual parts tests. The whole system is calibrated and optimized for the parts already on that vehicle. Individual part testing won’t tell you anything about whether it was a low-speed or high-speed test or the different types of structures a vehicle might strike. The question is will the aftermarket test these parts like OEMs do, and that’s to test the complete system.”
The parts Ford tested were:
2005-09 Mustang front and rear bumper beams
2005-09 Mustang bumper isolators
2008-09 Focus front and rear bumper beams
2006-08 F-150 bumper brackets
2004-07 F-150 radiator core supports
“Just by looking at these, you can tell the difference. You don’t have to cut them in half,” said Massie. “You also don’t have to do what we did to tell the difference between a magnesium radiator support and a plastic radiator support. This plastic radiator support became the poster child for this cause.”
Ford engineers attempted to cut bumper beams with a saw and used an air chisel to deconstructively test spot welds. Massie made note that the aftermarket beams are constructed of two separate pieces stamped and spot welded together, while the OEM beams are one-piece construction and roll-formed.
Ford’s conclusion on the spot welds was that they didn’t meet the automaker’s “minimum spot welding requirements for repair procedures.”
“I was told that the spot welds should’ve torn apart and literally ripped metal from one side or the other. Instead, they broke,” said Massie. “The air chisel just peeled [the two pieces of the bumper beams] apart.”
Also, Ford found that the metal gauge thickness and weight of the aftermarket parts were less than that of the OEM parts, and material composition varied significantly as well. But Massie cautioned about the thinner/thicker issue.
“Don’t get the impression that thinner is bad and thicker is better it works both ways,” he said. “The calibration of airbag systems is optimized for parts on the vehicle. Again, individual part testing can only tell you so much.”
Massie claims that Ford engineers were able to saw through an aftermarket bumper beam in 16 seconds with a metal saw purchased at Home Depot, but barely got a quarter-inch into the OEM counterpart when the blade wouldn’t cut anymore.
Based on those findings, Massie said, Ford found it necessary to go one step further and run computer-aided engineering tests, or virtual/simulated crash tests. The tests were only conducted on the 2005 Mustang front and rear bumper beams and radiator supports. Pieces from both the aftermarket and OEM parts were sent to a lab to determine the kind of material they were made of. The aftermarket parts were electronically scanned to determine their dimensions, and computer-aided engineering models were then built to compare them to the OEM parts.
Ford found that the aftermarket isolator was made of polystyrene, the same material, Massie said, that a coffee cup is made of. The OEM isolator was made of polypropylene. Other differences listed were:
List price: OEM $52 / Aftermarket $39
Raw material cost per pound: OEM $2.50 / Aftermarket .70
Weight: OEM .55 lbs./ Aftermarket .30 lbs.
As far as the bumper brackets, Ford’s tests found that the weight and the thickness of the OEM was nearly double that of the aftermarket. Massie said Ford’s are made of high-strength steel but admitted the aftermarket bumper brackets were not tested for material.
“But if they’re a lot thinner and the weight is a lot less, to me that’s not like, kind and quality,” Massie said.
Massie said the OEM bumper beam has stiffening beads on the top and also longitudinal stiffening beams and are one-piece roll-formed, versus the two-piece aftermarket beams welded along their seams.
“When you see how it’s made, you can’t compare it to the aftermarket part. There’s no way anyone will put that much time and money into it,” said Massie. “We put these things in parts for a reason. They have a function. It’s not the same quality.”
Ford found that the Focus bumper beam was thicker than its aftermarket counterpart, at 1.29 millimeters compared to .78. It also weighed 25 percent more and was made of ultra high strength steel.
“Why do we use ultra high strength steel? We either want to maintain the strength or improve upon the strength and take weight out of the vehicle for fuel efficiency,” Massie said. “If you use mild steel and less of it than OE, what does that say? Are you concerned with safety and performance? These [aftermarket parts] are cheaper than OE parts, but there’s a reason for that.”
The OEM radiator core support was made of magnesium with some sheet metal bolted to it in certain areas. Massie claims Ford kept trying to order an aluminum aftermarket radiator core support but kept getting a plastic one.
“This was scary,” Massie said. “You would be concerned if this was put on your vehicle. There was sheet metal populated at the top to add support to it, but the insulator mounts and reinforcements were completely different.”
In conclusion, Massie said Ford will push for more oversight of aftermarket parts by working with trade associations, regulatory agencies, automobile alliances and elected officials.