Consider the scenario: A family of three suffers an accident and needs to replace several parts on their car.

It’s an expensive ordeal. And in our current system drivers are forced to rely largely on replacement parts manufactured by auto companies, which cost up to 60 percent more than a generic version of the same parts would be. This represents a cost difference that can be in the thousands of dollars for a repair—a significant cost for the average American.

Executive Summary

Opinion: PCI Chair Terrence Cavanaugh outlines the trade group’s support of the PARTS Act, allowing aftermarket parts for collision repair of exterior car parts, such as hoods and fenders, after 30 months. Currently, auto makers are able to enforce design patents on their exterior parts for 14 years.

Shouldn’t we ease the burden of hard-working Americans by preserving a more affordable way for them to fix their cars?

As Congress returns from recess to reauthorize an urgent highway transportation proposal for the next six years, let’s seize the moment to tackle another transportation issue and pass the bipartisan “Promoting Automotive Repair, Trade, and Sales Act,” otherwise known as the PARTS Act of 2015 (H.R. 1057/S.B. 560). This legislation will preserve competition for replacement car parts, reduce their prices, and enable consumers to save in the aftermath of an accident.

The bill text of H.R. 1057—PARTS Act of 2015—refers to “a design patent that claims a component part of a motor vehicle as originally manufactured.”

The text says “it shall not be an act of infringement of such design patent to make or offer to sell…any article of manufacture that is similar or the same in appearance to” the patented part if the purpose of the similar part is a repair “to restore [the] vehicle to its appearance as originally manufactured” after an expiration period of 30 months.

For the purpose of the Act, the term component part is defined as a part of the exterior of a motor vehicle only, such as a hood, fender, tail light, side mirror, or quarter panel. The definition does not include an inflatable restraint system or other interior parts.

The PARTS Act will provide consumers with more opportunities to purchase reliable and affordable car parts. Currently, American automakers have exclusive rights to manufacture replacement parts for their cars with design patents that last for 14 years. But cars rarely last 14 years, and consumers are left with pricey parts that expire with their vehicles.

Fortunately, the PARTS Act reduces the design patent time frame on these parts, and just these parts, to 30 months. This will allow generic parts manufacturers to create quality replacement parts that are less expensive than the parts sold by automakers. More manufacturers of replacement auto parts means more competition, and more competition means lower prices for consumers.

The United Kingdom, as well as several other European countries and Australia, have enacted laws and provisions similar to the PARTS Act. But here in the United States, we have allowed special interests to get in the way of consumer interests.

Suppose a pharmaceutical company intentionally made drugs that didn’t keep people as healthy as they could be, and forced generic pharmaceuticals out of the market, keeping necessary medicine expensive out of reach for average Americans. We don’t stand for this in our health care system. Why would Congress allow a similar dynamic in the automobile industry?

Congress must course correct and pass the PARTS Act; this bipartisan measure increases competition in the marketplace for replacement car parts—competition that will drive down prices, and protect the pocketbooks and livelihoods of Americans on the road.

Contributor

Terrence W. Cavanaugh, Erie Insurance

Terrence W. Cavanaugh is President and Chief Executive Officer of Erie Insurance Group. He is also Chair of Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s Board of Governors.