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Everything from Hood Ornaments to Tail Lamps LemonsThey say if life hands you a lemon, make lemonade...but it's hard to make lemonade with repro car parts!
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Vol. 3, No. 3
April 18, 2005

We Need A Lemon Law for Repro Parts!
by Andrew Angove

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When you buy a new car, most states have a Lemon Law to protect your rights in the event you buy a dud. You know the one, it's the last car down the line on the Friday before a 3-day Holiday weekend, or the first car down the line following a 3-day Holiday weekend! Years ago, no such laws existed and you were basically stuck with what you got. Weekly trips to the dealer for repairs were the norm with a lemon, and you were soon enough on a first name basis with everyone there.

But consumer rights laws eventually caught up with consumer needs, and Lemon Laws were put in place that gave consumers certain rights if they wound up with a lemon. Classic car enthusiasts undertaking a car restoration need a Lemon Law that covers reproduction parts. Some of the stuff out there just doesn't quite cut it in areas of usability, fit, finish, and longevity.

For instance, take the foam padding for some vintage Thunderbirds. Seats reupholstered with this foam look over stuffed! They are just...too...thick! And given the limited amount of headroom a tall person has in these cars, your head can touch the headliner due to the height of the seat cushion. Yet reputable parts vendors sell this stuff year after year. We're told they need to be "cut down" to size. Right. Cut about 50% off and you're in the ballpark! Seems the manufacturer could cut down the foam themselves, and make twice as many for the same amount of raw material.

Another reproduction part in need of Lemon Law protection is the molded rubber weatherstripping for some of the Thunderbirds and Lincolns. One Lincoln owner reported the new repro weatherstripping on his convertible melted in the hot sun! He had a gooey mess to clean off of his window glass and belt mouldings, which took hours of labor.

A Thunderbird owner reported it was almost impossible to close the car door after installation - seems the repro stuff just didn't fit very well. He was told to leave the doors shut for a few weeks, and the new stuff would compress and be OK. Hmmm...guess that gets the vendor out of the 30 day parts return period, so the owner is stuck with it at that point if it doesn't compress. It did compress some, but not enough that the lady of the house could close the door without difficulty.

I've personally invested 24+ man hours trying to adjust the two door glasses on my 1969 Ford Thunderbird. With the help of a friend, who is a Ford factory trained mechanic. The glass still doesn't fit in the repro weatherstripping properly. There are gaps that allow wind and water to intrude, but I only paid $295 for it, so do I really have the right to expect it would fit as intended? (Sarcasm intentional.)

So that you don't think this issue is limited to soft goods, let's consider the reproduction fuel sending units. Now THERE'S some real garbage! Especially the ones with the low fuel warning light thermisters. Either the "Low Fuel" light works once or twice as intended, AND THEN NEVER COMES ON AGAIN...or the light STAYS ON ALL THE TIME, regardless of how much gas is in the tank. Most enthusiasts believe it's best to have their original, 30+ year old parts rebuilt, rather than buy a brand new one.

And there are more repro parts deserving the medal of shame:

Radiator overflow tanks that develop pinhole leaks after 3-4 months of use;

Power window switches with cheap plastic internal parts that can be counted on to break within a year's time;

Gas tanks that don't quite fit the way the factory intended them to;

Vinyl upholstery that is guaranteed to have seam splits in no time;

And the list goes on...

To add insult to injury, these repro parts are not inexpensive. Surely the price isn't indicative of the quality of the product, if it were I'd hate to see what something built to last would cost! What would the collector car market pay for these same parts if they fit properly, worked well, and lasted a long time with normal care? Would a 25% premium be possible? Who knows, but with more and more repro parts coming on the market, something should be done.

I don't want to leave the impression that ALL repro parts are junk, as that simply isn't true. There are many quality reproduction parts manufacturers out there who take pride in the quality of their parts. Many of these parts must meet strict OEM standards to ensure they perform and look as originally designed, and they are built to last. You just have to ask around before you buy, most fellow enthusiasts aren't shy about cluing you in on a bad deal.

Lemon Laws are designed to protect people from automobiles that just don't work as intended, through no fault of the purchaser. When you buy a used car, you normally agree to purchase it "as is" and take the risk of discovering hidden defects later. When you buy new repro parts, shouldn't they also work as intended? Shouldn't they come with more protection to consumers than the standard 30 day return period? It seems to me that laws similar to the Lemon Laws that protect car buyers could be written to cover reproduction parts as well.

Copyright © 2005 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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