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Mercedes blames insurers for worsening road-toll

Damage control: If the eight different metals in this Mercedes shell aren't repaired using specialist methods, its ability to protect occupants is likely to be compromised.

Cost-cutting insurers have driver's blood on their hands, says Mercedes-Benz

1 May 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ claims that the unregulated repair of crash-damaged vehicles with counterfeit parts, fitted by inadequately trained technicians, is putting the life of every road-user at risk.

Speaking at an AMG track day this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific senior public relations manager David McCarthy said that those insurers who seek to increase profits by using non-genuine parts “have blood on their hands”.

The luxury car-maker claims an increasing shift towards cheaper and inferior quality non-original parts is being driven by insurers with an eye on the bottom line, not public safety, and that body-repair businesses and customers have little or no say in the matter.

In a passionate statement to the press, Mr McCarthy spoke scathingly of both insurers and the government, citing the use of non-genuine parts and the way that they are fitted as “the greatest threat to road safety and road trauma that we as a community face”.

“An overwhelming majority of insurers are fitting parts to cars that are counterfeit, that are deficient and they are compromising the integrity of the safety. All they are interested in is repairing a car to look good,” said Mr McCarthy.

“They are not repairing the car for the next accident and, quite frankly, they have blood on their hands.

“We design a vehicle to be able in primary and secondary safety to protect the occupant and pedestrians, but the repair practices that are taking place and the parts that are being used are putting people's lives at risk. I have no doubt about that.

“When you fit non-genuine parts in an environment that is not qualified you are playing Russian Roulette, and the insurance companies are loading the gun.” Constructed from inferior materials, a counterfeit bonnet can weigh more than double an original fitment part, which when fitted will adversely affect the way a vehicle drives, uses fuel and behaves during an accident.

Up to eight different metals are used in the body-shell of Mercedes models, from high-strength steels to aluminium and magnesium alloys, and if each of the materials are not dealt with using the correct specialist techniques, the whole structural integrity can be compromised.

Even something as seemingly insignificant as windscreen adhesive can have a dramatic effect, with the pane carrying as much as 30 per cent of the body's torsional rigidity.

The counterfeit components are not just limited to panels, with a market for copied and 'reconditioned' light assemblies emerging too.

Examples of the non-genuine tail-lights require additional wiring before they can be fitted and lack essential sealing panels allowing water ingress, as do repaired headlights, which are re-fitted to vehicles after previous impact damage has been remedied.

But crash damage isn't always visible and body repair shops lacking vital diagnostics equipment can easily miss critical areas requiring attention, such as seatbelt pre-tensioners.

The same diagnostic equipment is required to reset systems once all the correct repairs have been completed to ensure the vehicle can return to the road safely.

As with many other manufacturers, specialist Mercedes workshop equipment is periodically updated with the latest data, allowing best practices and guaranteed repair quality.

For this reason Mercedes claims independent repairers can not compete or guarantee their work preserves the original factory quality.

“When you fit non-genuine parts in an incorrect manner to a car, our view is that vehicle is no longer safe, therefore it is no longer roadworthy and there is no control on this.

“The insurance companies need to face up top their public responsibilities and wash the blood from their hands.

“If they believe that what they are doing is right then they need to demonstrate it and prove it.” Mercedes refuted claims that its bid to regulate non-genuine parts is simply a ploy to boost original equipment sales, and says it has a system which reduces the price of the most commonly-sourced repair parts.

“Yes it is about protecting our business, but it is about protecting the customer too.

“We share our safety technology with other manufacturers free of charge because we will not engage in a race to the bottom on safety.

While some discussions to address the problem of unregulated repair are underway via the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), Mercedes believes not enough is being done.

“The governments in Australia are allowing this to happen. They talk and talk and talk about road safety but this is an area they are doing nothing in.” Mercedes is reportedly not alone in its concerns: “Other manufacturers absolutely agree with us,” said Mr McCarthy.

BMW corporate communications manager Lenore Fletcher confirmed that BMW has similar concerns regarding the use of non-genuine parts, but accusations that it is simply the manufacturers protecting their own profits are unfounded.

“I think there's been probably some criticism regarding the fact that it can be seen in a non-positive light as self-serving by the car importers and manufacturers, but this clearly couldn't be further from the truth.” said Ms Fletcher.

“The issue at hand is the fact that there's an enormous amount of research and development, investment, diagnostic tools, product development, extremely high standards within the BMW Group, in terms of our parts and accessories and their design and materials. To cut it short – these products are guaranteed for a reason.

“It is something that has a profile within the Australian industry and it is something that should be worrying all consumers.”

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