CHARLESTON - The Automotive Recyclers Association last week sent a formal letter of complaint to West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, urging him to stop using the term "junkyard parts" when referring to recycled or salvaged auto parts.
The ARA called the term "derogatory and misleading."
In December, McGraw filed a lawsuit against Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. and a St. Albans frame and body shop for allegedly repairing vehicles with used parts. In his office's press release, the attorney general called them "junkyard parts."
The lawsuit, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, details repeated violations of the state's Consumer Credit and Protection Act by both Liberty Mutual and Greg Chandler's Frame and Body LLC.
In particular, McGraw alleges Liberty Mutual required body shops to repair vehicles using reconditioned, remanufactured and used parts in violation of state law.
In addition, McGraw contends the insurer failed to provide consumers with the proper notices and written statements.
According to the Attorney General's Office, it is unlawful in West Virginia for an insurer to require the use of salvaged, used or reconditioned crash parts when negotiating the repairs of vehicles within three years of manufacture and without the owner's consent.
McGraw said his office began investigating Liberty Mutual and the body shop after receiving "evidence" that new vehicles were being repaired with the used parts.
An investigation confirmed that the insurer employed a policy that violated state law, he said.
"My office will always work to insure that West Virginians receive safe, high quality, competent, and lawful repairs to their vehicles," the attorney general said in a release last month.
"Implementing policies that thwart state law in an effort to increase profits is unacceptable."
The ARA argues that McGraw, in his release, is implying that recycled or salvaged parts are "inferior" to new ones.
"This is simply false," ARA CEO Michael E. Wilson said. "Recycled/salvaged automobile parts are not 'junkyard parts' nor are they classified as such under West Virginia statute.
"We have asked the Attorney General to clarify this statement," he said.
The group contends McGraw's characterization of recycled or salvaged auto parts instead does a disservice to West Virginia consumers.
"Restricting legitimate choices for vehicle repair does not protect West Virginia consumers. Rather, restricting access to recycled/salvaged parts creates a monopolistic market, inflating the cost of vehicle repair and increasing insurance premiums," the ARA said.
Additionally, the group, in its two-page letter, calls on the attorney general to fix what it calls "incorrect information" posted on the Frequently Asked Questions section of his office's website.
The question reads, "Why should I care what parts the motor vehicle body shop uses?"
The statement reads, "If aftermarket crash parts or salvage crash parts are used on a consumer's vehicle, as opposed to genuine crash parts, the new car warranty will be declared totally void on that crash part and any part it touches."
The ARA contends that statement is false.
"The simple use of recycled/salvage or aftermarket parts, as opposed to new equipment manufacturer parts, cannot void a vehicle warranty under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act," the group said.
"The United States Federal Trade Commission recently reaffirmed the underpinnings of the Magnuson-Moss Act by issuing a Consumer Alert that specifically advises consumers that 'simply using an aftermarket or recycled part does not void a warranty.'"
Fran Hughes, chief deputy attorney general for McGraw, did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment on the matter.
The attorney general is asking the circuit court to enjoin both Liberty Mutual and the body shop from engaging in such activity in the future, and is seeking restitution for those whose cars were illegally repaired with "bad parts" and asks for civil penalties.
According to its website, the ARA has represented an industry "dedicated to the efficient removal and reuse of 'green' automotive parts and the proper recycling of inoperable motor vehicles" for almost 70 years.
Today, it says it represents the interests of more than 4,500 auto recycling facilities in the U.S. and 14 other countries around the world.