Perspective: Quality Parts and Service A Matter of Life and Death

By: Gary A. Molinaro, Publisher, The Greensheet

Folks doing business in the independent automotive aftermarket have much of which to be proud. Generally speaking, this is a profitable industry, and has certainly been a growth sector over the past few years. But there are even more important reasons to take pride in being part of the auto care industry. As noted repeatedly by Kathleen Schmatz during her tenure as president and CEO of the Auto Care Association, we keep America on the road. And, we do it at a reasonable price — a true value proposition.

Quality Parts Matter

But most importantly — at least in this writer’s mind — we keep the American public safe by keeping all those vehicles on the road operating safely, keeping drivers and occupants out of harm’s way. We manufacture reliable parts, installed by highly trained personnel, making those vehicles operate within safe parameters. It is a trust we take on regardless of where we do business along the aftermarket channel. Care Association, we keep America on the road. And, we do it a reasonable price — a true value proposition.

That is part of the promise we all make in taking on the responsibility of diagnosing and repairing today’s highly complex vehicles.

Yet, early last month, we saw a rare example of someone not only not living up to that promise but recklessly causing the death of a customer, because the technician did not thoroughly inspect a vehicle during a state-required inspection program.

Steven Jalbert, a Barre, Vt. technician, was arrested on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment after the vehicle owner, an 83-year-old woman, died in a crash two months after Jalbert inspected the 1992 Chevrolet Corsica at AJ’s Sunoco in Barre in 2014. Investigators determined that the crash could have been prevented with a proper inspection. According to a police affidavit, Jalbert never tested the brakes, never removed a wheel, never put the vehicle on a lift and never did a road test. Additionally, Jalbert was using an out-of-date manual, investigators determined. Investigators said the woman’s brake lines and rocker panels were rusted, clearly corroded, and in a visibly unsafe condition when Jalbert passed the car’s inspection.

In early August, Jalbert pleaded not guilty to the charges and now faces up to 16 years in prison as well as a fine if convicted.

“When you go in and you pay the fees to have your vehicle inspected, you’re depending on that inspection mechanic to take the time to go through, examine that vehicle and tell you ‘Yes, that vehicle is safe to drive,’“ Glen Button, director of enforcement at the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, told a local TV station. The Vermont DMV has 1,100 inspection locations across the state and 5,900 licensed mechanics. Button went on to say that it is imperative for mechanics to follow the steps the state has laid out for annual safety equipment inspections.

“It really is critical. They’re examining the suspension of the vehicle, the steering mechanism of the vehicle, they’re looking at the exhaust. Any of those systems, if there is a problem, it could really be tragic,” he said. And, in this case, it was.

It is obvious this is an anomaly, an unusual circumstance, a seemingly one-in-a-million occurrence. But, it underlines how literally vital it is for our techs to be well-trained and thorough when analyzing a vehicle in the bay in their charge. Just as vital — and I believe our industry is committed to this standard — every part needs to be a quality part that equals or exceeds the OE requirements. And this standard is doubly important with safety-related components.

This is the value proposition behind the AASA Know Your Parts® campaign. Under this program, the standard is that “quality aftermarket products are backed by research and development, quality materials, superior manufacturing processes, and full-service manufacturers who stand behind them,” according to the campaign’s website.

I believe, as an industry, we all understand the huge responsibility we take on in servicing and repairing our customers’ vehicles. But an incident like this should remind us that the result of not meeting this standard can be a matter of life or death … literally