New Ford Motor Company crash tests show that not all replacement vehicle parts are created equal when it comes to safety and the cost of repair when an accident occurs, according to a recent company press release.

The low-speed crash tests conducted by Ford showed that a commonly used copy bumper beam absorbs less crash energy than the vehicle’s original bumper beam or a genuine Ford replacement bumper beam. The tests also showed that vehicles with the copy part were more likely to experience unintended airbag deployments during low-speed collisions.

All of this, says Ford, can lead to higher repair costs when accidents occur. Repair estimates show aftermarket copy bumper beams can more than double the repair costs after even a low-speed accident, compared to a genuine Ford replacement bumper beam.

“These tests raise more questions about unintended airbag deployments in the event of a future crash,” said Paul Massie, Ford powertrain and collision product marketing manager. “They also highlight the dangers of being penny-wise and pound-foolish, as less-expensive copy parts could lead to much higher repair costs down the road. All drivers should be aware that copy parts can compromise both the safety performance and the long-term repair costs of your vehicle.”

Aftermarket copy parts are parts unauthorized by the vehicle manufacturer and marketed as a cheaper alternative to authorized replacement parts. Ford replacement crash parts, including all structural parts, are identical to those used in new vehicle production and operate seamlessly with the vehicle’s safety system.

The crash tests underscore the results of Ford’s previously released Computer Aided Engineering testing, definitively showing that the copy parts are not “like kind and quality” to the original equipment manufacturer parts – as is required by many states – and will not return a vehicle to pre-accident condition.

Ford’s research examined OEM and aftermarket copy bumper beams for the Ford Mustang from the 2005 through 2009 model years. The parts were first put through a 6-mph frontal impact sled test, then corresponding bumper absorbers and bumper isolators were added for 5-mph and 8-mph full-vehicle flat barrier crash tests.

More airbag deployments

Data from the 8-mph crash barrier test demonstrated that the amount of crash energy absorbed by the aftermarket copy bumper beam is less than that of the OEM beam. The data also showed that the frequency of airbag deployments at low speeds will increase with the use of the copy bumper beam, absorber and isolator because the copy parts do not transmit the crash pulse as effectively to the crash sensors to indicate when an airbag should be deployed.

“Genuine Ford parts are designed to work properly with the entire vehicle structure, just like a brand-new car,” said David Bauch, Ford sensor technical specialist. “The pulse to the airbag sensors will change with the aftermarket bumper, affecting the sensor’s decision to deploy or not to deploy an airbag.”

Side-by-side visual comparisons following each test also offered striking differences, with the aftermarket beam failing to perform in a manner consistent with that of the genuine Ford part.

“The copy bumper beam had an aftermarket absorber made of polystyrene and an aftermarket isolator. The stacking up of these parts changed the crash characteristics of the entire bumper assembly, which is why Ford conducts both component-level crash testing and system-level testing on all of its vehicles,” said Roger Chen, Ford crash development engineer.

The sled test, a component-level test used to determine how a single part will react under dynamic crash conditions, showed the aftermarket copy bumper beam failed to absorb energy like that of the genuine Ford beam, with deceleration and velocity measurements inconsistent with those of the OEM part. The copy part crushed nearly flat on each end and displayed little energy absorption, while the Ford part suffered only slight intrusion on the sides and absorbed more crash energy before rebounding close to its original form.

Higher estimated repair costs

In each test, the genuine Ford parts performed as designed and resulted in a substantially lower estimated repair bill, while the copy parts led to significantly higher repair costs.

Damage estimates following the 5-mph crash test put the repair cost for the vehicle fitted with aftermarket copy parts at $2,982 (using aftermarket prices for the bumper beam, absorber and isolator, and OEM parts for the remainder), nearly two-and-a-half times the $1,224 (using all OEM parts) estimate for the vehicle with genuine Ford parts.

Estimates after the 8-mph crash came in at $3,816 for the aftermarket vehicle and $3,441 for the Mustang with genuine Ford parts. However, in cases where the crash resulted in unwarranted deployment for both front airbags, the repair cost for the vehicle with copy parts would jump to at least $5,394.

Copy bumpers sidestep safety testing

Statistics show the vast majority of injury accidents occur at speeds below 35 mph. In low-speed accidents, the bumper beam plays a significant role in absorbing crash energy and ensuring the proper operation of the safety system of the vehicle as a whole.

“A vehicle is required to pass a multitude of crash tests before the vehicle is sold to consumers,” said Massie. “In sharp contrast, aftermarket copy parts face no crash test requirements prior to distribution, and have not been proven to work effectively with the rest of the vehicle’s components. Copy parts should be subjected to the same government safety tests as the original parts so consumers can see the true costs that come with using many copy parts.”

Ford is working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, collision industry trade associations, state governmental and regulatory agencies, elected officials, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and others, to help improve the oversight of aftermarket copy structural parts and monitor their impact on the safety of the driving public.