Fast-Forwarding Into The Future

Let's set the stage for some discussion about the future of the high-performance parts we know it today.

In the early stages of the specialty automotive parts industry, when Ford was the by-word brad associated with high performance, Zora Arkus-Duntov penned his infamous "memo to management." It was 1953, and in the document to his GM superiors, he pointed out Ford's apparent dominance in the minds of performance-oriented young people and suggested Chevrolet needed to design, build and sell performance for its then-new small-block V8. If there were one master of knowledge that I had to bet the farm on when it comes to the automotive aftermarket it would be Mr. Jim McFarland. Few men in our industry have seen all sides of the performance equation as Jim has. An award-winning journalist and longtime liaison between the aftermarket and performance publications, Jim is now seeing the industry from the manufacturers' vantage point as Mark Heffington's right-hand man at Hypertech Inc. Jim's keen perspective at where our market is and where it's going are a perfect combination for both promoting the modern technology that Hypertech creates and helping enthusiasts to understand what it means to them and their performance machines. By so doing, he was treading on history, perhaps unaware he was charting a course for the multi-billion dollar industry we know today.

Years later when discussing the impact of his memo, Zora shared with me that a key issue in his recommendations was that the parts be sold through Chevrolet dealerships throughout the country. That landmark document underscores the fact that the performance automotive aftermarket works from the platforms Detroit builds. Even over time, as environmental concerns and regulatory controls impacted the aftermarket community, the playing field continued to be set by the OEM, it is today.

When on-board diagnostic (OBD) controls surfaced in the '90s, there was widespread concern among the emissions-related performance parts manufacturers that the OEM (as mandated by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board) was beginning to close the hoods of opportunity for automotive enthusiasts. And, to a degree, they the short term.

However, under the burden of higher development and certification costs, OBD-compatible parts did emerge and remain today, still confronted by the demands of regulators and faced by increasingly complex OEM vehicle technologies.

Even though the performance industry has experienced growth as a direct consequence of new vehicle improvements, there is a "back-side" to the issue we need to examine. It has to do with OEM warranties, something of little concern when Zora compiled his memo way back in '53. So it is at this point, although the OEM still has their own brands of performance parts, we depart from history and turn our attention to contemporary specialty components and new vehicle warranties.

There is a portion of the Federal Magnuson-Moss Act (designed for consumer protection) that deals with automotive aftermarket parts and warranty denials. Specifically, it states that warranty coverage can be denied only if the aftermarket part in question is proven to have caused the malfunction or damage for which coverage is sought. For an elaboration on this information and a variety of supporting documentation, click here to review the Specialty Equipment Market Association's (SEMA) presentation about warranty denial.

Many aftermarket parts manufacturers state the installation of their parts will not void an OEM warranty. By the letter of the Magnuson-Moss Act, unless it can be demonstrated a part caused a failure, the statement is accurate...assuming all required emissions-related parts and systems were in place and properly functioning. But some dealerships ignore the Act, placing responsibility back on the vehicle owner or, in some cases, the aftermarket parts manufacturer.

Do all dealerships follow this practice? No. In fact, some dealers sell and install aftermarket performance parts and abide by the Act. But some don't. If a situation develops after vehicle purchase, a review and understanding of the referenced SEMA document is worthwhile. If, prior to vehicle purchase, an opportunity presents itself to discuss a particular dealership's warranty practices regarding specialty aftermarket parts, that might be a wise step to take. At the least, you will have a sense for what to expect in the event of a warranty issue. It might even influence your choice of dealership.

What some vehicle owners don't know is that the OEM issues their dealerships an ongoing stream of technical service bulletins (TSBs) that spell out specific problems that are attributable to a factory flaw. For example, a failed engine could result from faulty stock fuel injectors, not the aftermarket tuning improperly claimed by a dealership. In such a case, unless informed about the true cause of the failure, a customer is left to the discretion of the dealer's service manager and unaware of the exact cause. Happens all the time. Turn over every information stone in your path, else you could be misled.

Clearly, the landscape has changed dramatically since Duntov encouraged Chevrolet to get into the aftermarket performance parts business. Times were much simpler then, and five decades later there is a division (within the OEM) between marketing and legal segments. The marketing types like the opportunities presented by the specialty parts industry. In fact, they have significant and visible presence in the annual SEMA trade show. However, the legal types don't like new vehicles being modified and point to various certification requirements or OEM language in support of their arguments.

The bottom line requires that we face realities. In so doing, we need to seek all sources of information, both before and after a warranty issue appears.

Know your rights and enlist any valid source of help, because the performance parts industry isn't going to disappear. On the contrary, it continues to expand in direct proportion to marketing opportunities and the historically rich innovative talents of its parts manufacturers. Lifting words from Zora's landmark memo, "Young people are going to modify their cars, whether we like it or not, so why not help them do a good job at it?" His remarks ring true today, just as they did in 1953. 

Here's What's New!