Mr. Alan Nappier
Earl Stewart Toyota
1215 U.S. Highway 1
Lake Park, FL 33403
Dear Mr. Nappier:
This responds to your letter asking whether Federal law requires repair shops to repair vehicles using only parts provided by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and not “aftermarket” parts.
You enclosed a December 2010 “collision repair information” bulletin from Toyota which states that repairing a vehicle using OEM parts and procedures “can help return Toyota vehicles to pre-loss condition following a collision.” The bulletin states that Toyota vehicles are “engineered and manufactured as an integrated assembly of carefully designed and manufactured parts” and that Toyota does “not recommend the use of alternative parts for the repair of Toyota vehicles.” I understand, from telephone conversations you had with Deirdre Fujita of my staff, that you support the idea of using OEM parts.
You ask: “If the vehicle manufacturer states… that the exterior sheetmetal [sic] of an automobile is an integral part of the Supplemental Restraint System and I install untested aftermarket sheetmetal provided by a non-OEM manufacturer (aftermarket), am I, as a ‘repair business,’ in violation of 49 U.S.C. 30122 [make inoperative provision]?”
As explained below, we recommend following the vehicle manufacturer’s advice about the repair. However, the short answer to your specific question is no. When repairing a used vehicle, it does not violate §30122 on its face for you to use aftermarket parts in the repair of the vehicle.
Background: Safety Act
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (“Safety Act”; 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301) authorizes the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) applicable to new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has exercised this authority to issue an array of FMVSSs for new vehicles and certain equipment items.
Section 30112(a)(1) of the Safety Act specifies that, “a person may not manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States, any motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment manufactured on or after the date an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter takes effect unless the vehicle or equipment complies with the standard and is covered by a certification issued under section 30115 of this title.” As applied to your inquiry, because of this statutory requirement, no person can legally sell or offer for sale a new vehicle that had been repaired if the new vehicle does not comply with all applicable FMVSSs.
However, once a vehicle is sold and delivered to its first retail purchaser, the vehicle is no longer required by Federal law to comply with the FMVSSs. This is because §30112(b)(1) of the Safety Act provides that the prohibitions in §30112(a) do not apply to “the sale, offer for sale, or introduction or delivery for introduction in interstate commerce of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment after the first purchase of the vehicle or equipment in good faith other than for resale.”
After the first purchase of a vehicle, the provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable FMVSS is set forth in §30122 of the Safety Act. That section provides, in relevant part: “A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard.”
The answer to your question depends in part on when the repair is made.
New vehicle: In the case of a repair of a new vehicle prior to its delivery to the first consumer purchaser, it is our view that, if the vehicle manufacturer recommends that only an OEM part should be used, the repair shop must use the OEM part or contact the manufacturer to get its concurrence that the vehicle will meet the FMVSSs with the non-OEM part. Without such concurrence, if the repair results in the new vehicle not complying with the FMVSSs, the repair shop using the aftermarket part could be liable for violating §30112(a)(1) and §30122 of the Safety Act.
Used vehicle: In the case of a repair of a used vehicle, use of aftermarket parts in the repair of that vehicle is not prohibited per se by §30122. Use of an aftermarket part is permitted by Federal law as long as the repair shop does not knowingly make inoperative the compliance of a required safety system.
Please note, however, the following about the “knowingly” aspect of §30122. An entity does not need to have actual knowledge that a device or element of design would be made inoperative by the entity’s modification of a vehicle or item of equipment in order for that modification to violate §30122. A violation may occur if the entity should have known that a device or element of design would be made inoperative by the entity’s modification. Accordingly, the agency will assess whether the entity exercised reasonable judgment in undertaking the modification and reasonable skill in implementing it. Even if the entity claimed that it did not “know” that a device or element of design would be made inoperative by the entity’s modification, NHTSA will conduct such an assessment to determine whether the entity should have known that the device or element of design would be made inoperative. The agency will pursue such cases under appropriate circumstances.
Keep in mind also that §30122 does not require repair shops to restore safety systems damaged in a collision to a new or pre-crash condition. Instead, under §30122, when any repair to a vehicle is completed, the vehicle must be returned to the customer with the safety systems capable of functioning at least as well as they were able to when the vehicle was received by the repair shop.
We emphasize that some of our safety standards apply to new equipment items, both OEM and replacement equipment. For example, we have FMVSSs applying to lamps and reflectors, tires, windows and windshields, brake hoses, and seat belt assemblies. If your repair involves using new equipment items that are covered by an “equipment” FMVSS, under §30112(a)(1) of the Safety Act, the equipment must be certified as meeting the FMVSS.
In addition, NHTSA has the authority to pursue any apparent safety problems with aftermarket parts under the “defect” provisions of the Safety Act. If evidence demonstrated that the aftermarket part presented an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety, NHTSA could order the manufacturer of the equipment to remedy the defect free of charge. Persons aware of an apparent defect can report it to NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation at https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/.
In closing, please note that the above interpretation has no bearing on contractual agreements between a repair shop and a dealer and/or the vehicle manufacturer to undertake repairs in a certain manner or to use certain parts. Moreover, States may have relevant laws or regulations governing motor vehicle repair.
If you have further questions, please contact Ms. Fujita at (202) 366-2992.
O. Kevin Vincent
Ref: 49 USC Sec. 30122
 For purposes of this letter, we include in this term “repair shop” all the entities listed in §30122.
 The Conference report on the make inoperative provision states: “It is not the purpose of this amendment to limit in any way the use of independent aftermarket repair and service parts in the repair or replacement of components incorporated in the vehicle at the time of manufacture pursuant to the requirements of Federal motor vehicle safety standards.”
 See, e.g., http://isearch.nhtsa.gov/aiam/aiam4681.html, letter to Linda L. Conrad, January 19, 1990.
 Nonetheless, NHTSA strongly encourages repair shops to restore functionality to safety systems to ensure that the vehicles will continue to provide crash protection for occupants during the life of the vehicle.