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Why CAPA Certified Radiators?

by Jack Gillis, Executive Director, Certified Automotive Parts Association

Automobile_radiator For over 25 years, CAPA has set the standard for truly, high quality replacement parts. Recognized worldwide for both the rigor of its fully transparent standards and for the dramatic improvements it has brought about in the quality of parts meeting its requirements, CAPA has now developed a legitimate means for manufacturers to demonstrate the functional equivalency of their radiators to car company brand parts. Here’s what we did and why we did it.

As background, in the mid 80’s, there were four fundamental concepts behind the creation of CAPA by the ABPA that are still relevant today: 1.) it is impossible for the market to identify parts that are truly functionally equivalent to car company brand parts; 2.) without rigorous standards, the car companies would easily discredit the entire universe of aftermarket crash parts; 3.) CAPA Certification must provide true value to both the market and the manufacturer; 4.) the standards must be legitimate in their development, implementation, transparency and service to the public.

Collision Repairer Concerns About Quality

A few years ago, leaders in the collision repair industry came to CAPA and asked for a standard for radiators and condensers. Remarkably, the segment of the industry that was once most skeptical of AM parts had come to appreciate the legitimacy and integrity of the CAPA program. Because repairers were not able to depend on price, branding, seller’s claims, and warranties to identify quality radiators, they suggested that CAPA use its extensive standard development experience to create a way for the market to identify which parts were functionally equivalent to the car company branded parts.

From the repairer perspective, radiator fit, quality and performance issues were causing problems in the shop at the time of installation and as well as additional expenses down the road.   While fit has traditionally been a problem with exterior cosmetic parts (which was the key reason why CAPA developed its unique Vehicle Test Fit program in 1999), it was also an issue with radiators in spite of the lack of precision needed for parts “under the hood.” There were three areas of concern–mounting holes and brackets, fitting of attachments, and clearance from other parts. While many repairers would develop “workarounds” for such problems, the increased labor time reinforced the shop’s perceptions that AM radiator parts where just not high quality alternatives. The repairers were also concerned about performance issues. Particularly problematic was the fact that radiator performance problems often didn’t surface until after a few months of operation. Because these performance problems could very likely cause damage to other vehicle systems, the repairer’s liability was very high. These repairers saw CAPA Certification as a means to help them identify radiators that could save their customers money without compromising their vehicle.

Manufacturers Looking for Ways to Differentiate Their Products

Interestingly, around the same time, a variety of cooling part manufacturers were also inquiring about a CAPA Standard for radiators. Their reasons were essentially the same – poor quality radiators were causing problems in the marketplace. While the issues were the same, the motivations of the two groups were different: The repairers wanted a quality alternative and the manufacturers wanted a way to identify their parts as the quality alternative. This became particularly important for both parties as the number of substandard radiators in the market increased—radiators that sometimes looked good, but often didn’t fit or perform well. Due to CAPA’s reputation and positive impact on the quality of the parts it currently certifies, these manufacturers felt that CAPA Certified radiators would provide an important market differentiator.

Questions about the Need for a Radiator Standard

In spite of support from these two critical components of the marketplace, the part distributors believed that there was no need for a CAPA Radiator Standard. Part distributors (and some insurers) did not see the problems in the marketplace that the shops and high quality manufacturers saw.

CAPA arranged meetings with National Automotive Radiator Service Association (NARSA), the main industry organization of radiator manufacturers and distributors. Apparently, NARSA, and some of its members, had explored the notion of quality standards for radiators and condensers. While they seemed to agree that it was good idea, they did not believe that their industry would embrace or even accept the notion. As such, a standard was never implemented. NARSA leaders interpreted the lack of implementation as an indication that, while interesting, there simply wasn’t a need to develop comparative quality standards.

Developing the CAPA 601 Radiator Standard

CAPA’s approach to standard development is to first assess the overall market need for a standard and the current ability to identify quality parts. If there is no interest in a standard and the market can accurately and easily identify the best quality parts, then there is generally no need for a standard. Seeing both the desire from certain segments and the inability of the market to identify true quality, CAPA took the next step in its standard development process—objective product testing.

After identifying some popular AM radiators in the market, CAPA conducted a series of comparative tests on critical aspects of the AM parts against their car company brand counterparts.  Working with industry experts, we identified 5 important comparison criteria: Visual (appearance, construction, geometry); leak resistance; corrosion resistance; heat transfer characteristics; pressure and flow characteristics; and, pressure cycle durability.

Included in the visual comparison and testing were parts for some popular vehicles including the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Taurus. Of the 9 AM radiators tested, 1 was comparable to the car company brand, 1 was potentially comparable, (based on obtaining industry feedback on whether an AM radiator should include a temperature sensor fitting and cap if they are included with the car company radiator) and 7 significantly underperformed compared to their car company brand counterpart. Observations included corrosion, leaking, missing fittings/caps, heat transfer and pressure cycling performance issues.

CAPA’s test results were both surprising and enlightening. The most important result was that there were, in fact, quality issues with these popular AM radiators, many of which “looked” to be quite similar to the CCS part. This confirmed to CAPA that, like the other parts in the CAPA Certification Program, it is virtually impossible to determine an AM part’s functional equivalency to a car company brand part by looking at the part (or depending on price, branding, sales claims, warranties or other typical identifiers). As such, CAPA’s Board approved the development of CAPA 601 Radiator Standard.

Going forward, with the assistance of industry experts, CAPA set out to develop a set of requirements for the radiator standard, using its fully transparent, and consensus based methodology. Recently, the CAPA 601 Radiator Standard was approved by CAPA’s Technical Committee, including support from distributors, repairers and insurers as well as other industry experts.

CAPA 601: Providing True Choice in the Marketplace

So what’s next? CAPA is now meeting with manufacturers to provide the details on what it will take for them to meet the CAPA 601 Radiator Standard. It will now be up to the industry, all members of the channel of distribution, to decide if CAPA Certified Radiators have value for them and their customers. The goal is to provide ABPA members, shops, insurers and, most importantly, consumers, with a choice between radiators that meet CAPA’s requirements for comparability with car company branded parts and those that do not. As the market has demonstrated, CAPA Certified parts are the most recognized and popular certified aftermarket parts in the market. Clearly, today, there is a strong demand for CAPA Certified parts and we expect that this demand will extend to radiators.

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