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No protection from dodgy parts

Real wheel: There is currently no government or non-government agency that has responsibility for preventing the sale of potentially dangerous car parts.

Consumers left unprotected from potentially unsafe, low quality products

5 Nov 2015

NO GOVERNMENT department or agency has the responsibility to prevent the importing of sub-standard alloy wheels, or other potentially dangerous parts, and their sale to unsuspecting consumers, a GoAuto examination has found.

A look into the current legislative situation has shown that neither the federal department that oversees vehicle standards nor the national consumer watchdog takes responsibility to protect consumers from potentially dangerous, low-quality products.

The absence of regulatory supervision came to light after the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents all of the car-makers, conducted some tests on imported fake Mercedes-Benz wheels late last month.

The tests, part of the chamber’s Genuine is Best campaign, showed that the imitation Mercedes-Benz wheels failed when they hit a curb at the normal suburban speed limit of 50km/h.

However, the tests brought an angry response from the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), which claimed the tests were a thinly veiled attempt to scare people away from buying safe, non-branded products.

“The FCAI test … was a misleading and self-serving exercise,” AAAA chief executive Stuart Charity said.

“The illegal wheels used in the FCAI stunt should never have passed through Australia’s border protection system.

“And those selling illegal wheels should be prosecuted under consumer protection laws.”

But GoAuto has found that such imports are not illegal and that people selling them are not breaking any laws.

Neither the department of infrastructure, which oversees the Motor Vehicles Standards Act 1989, nor the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) accept responsibility for supervising the quality of automotive components imported into the country or the quality of automotive components sold to Australian consumers.

Consumer protection is the responsibility of the ACCC, which not only prevents unacceptable corporate behavior and abuse of consumers, it also prosecutes companies that supply banned or substandard products.

GoAuto was told that the ACCC had no responsibility when it came to the quality of automotive products.

“Anything to do with vehicles is the responsibility of the department of infrastructure,” a spokesman said.

But, while the department of infrastructure administers the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, which incorporates the Australian Design Rules, and the Motor Vehicle Standards Regulations 1989, it does not police the quality of imported parts.

“The Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 does not require imported vehicle components to comply with the Australian Design Rules (ADRs),” the department said in a written response.

The ADRs are for complete vehicles.

“Vehicle safety standards are provided for through the ADRs. It should be noted that the ADRs do not differentiate between locally manufactured or imported vehicles.

“The ADRs apply to new vehicles when manufactured, but also have relevance through the life of the vehicle.”“Generally state and territory vehicle registration authorities require that vehicles continue to comply with the ADRs after the first supply to market, making allowances for wear and tear, and vehicle modifications.”

This appears to hand the responsibility for the quality of parts to the state and territory governments.

But no one agency has the responsibility for preventing the wheels from being imported in the first place, or for preventing their sale to Australian motorists.

GoAuto asked the department whether any policing was done to ensure imported components met ADR standards.

“While imported automotive components are not required to comply with the ADRs under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, importers may have other obligations under customs or consumer protection legislation.”

The AAAA represents a wide variety of companies in the automotive sector, including 261 companies that manufacture parts to Australian standards.

These parts, including performance modifications and four-wheel-drive accessories, are sold direct to owners rather than the car-makers.

Mr Charity said he believes the use of the word “genuine” in the Genuine is Best campaign slogan was designed to imply that non-genuine aftermarket parts were unsafe.

“They used the predictable outcome of their ‘test’ to try to attack the quality of aftermarket products with the claim ‘genuine is best’. This is a myth – a marketing tool,” Mr Charity said.

“What the car industry failed to disclose is that virtually all the car-makers’ ‘genuine’ parts are not made in their own factories.

“Most suppliers to the car industry sell those same products under different brands through at least two channels – the car manufacturers’ dealership networks and car parts retailers.

Mr Charity said he believed the real aim of the Genuine is Best campaign was to create fear and uncertainty in the minds of consumers.

“It also encourages them to pay for so called ‘genuine’ parts that come at a premium price.”

When asked about the AAAA reaction to the Genuine is Best campaign, FCAI chief executive Tony Weber held his ground.

“Genuine parts are made or selected by the vehicle’s maker and rigorously tested by that maker as an integral component of the vehicle to meet high quality, safety and performance standards,” he said in a written reply.

“This ensures that a vehicle will drive, function and protect you the way it was intended. Use anything else and you may be taking a risk.

“The parts recommended by car-makers meet the needs of the vehicle and the standards in the country in which the vehicle is sold. They are backed by extensive research, development and testing.”

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