Risky business

The sale and use of counterfeit spare parts continues to be an issue for the heating sector, with installers under increasing pressure to cut costs wherever possible. But replacing parts on gas appliances with unapproved non-genuine spares is essentially cutting corners, and has a wide range of quality, safety and legal implications. David Willetts, general manager at Baxi Genuine Parts, explains.

In a bid to ensure they remain competitive and secure business, installers will often look for ways to make their offer more cost-effective to customers. One way to do this is to opt for non-genuine spare parts when carrying out repairs but saving a few pounds in the short term can actually cost the homeowner dearly in the long run in terms of safety risks, damage to their heating system and an invalidated warranty. It can also harm an installer's reputation.

So why are non-genuine parts so bad? In a nutshell, these parts are often made from inferior materials or components and are unlikely to have been through the same lifecycle testing and approvals process as genuine parts, so may not last as long or be as reliable. If installers use a non-approved part to fix a boiler, the manufacturer is no longer able to guarantee the safety of the appliance, and any warranty for the appliance will be null and void.

But this is only half the story.

An important thing for merchants to stress to installers is that not only is the use of genuine and approved parts best practice to ensure safe, long lasting repairs and to keep the boiler running at its optimum performance, but it will also help them stay on the right side of the law.

Many people don't realise that the manufacture, sale and installation of any boiler part is surrounded by a whole host of legal implications. Legally speaking, the sale and fitting of non-genuine parts falls under three categories: parts that haven't been approved for use with gas appliances and therefore do not carry the CE mark, counterfeit parts, and parts that infringe on intellectual property.

Let's start with the implications of non-approved parts. Essentially, installers fitting a part to an appliance that is different to the one specified in the manufacturer's technical file immediately invalidate the CE mark certification of the appliance. As the manufacturer can no longer guarantee the safety of the appliance, the responsibility for it passes to the installer fitting the part, leaving them open to the risk of prosecution should anything go wrong.

In this situation, the installer has little knowledge of important safety factors. Is the boiler safe to use? Are there any hazardous substances in the assembly? How should it be disposed of at the end of its life? It's quite a gamble on quality and safety, just to knock a few pounds off the cost to the customer.

One industry issue which can compound the problem is the rise in counterfeit copies of boiler parts - so sometimes an installer may buy non-genuine parts unwittingly. This is where merchants have a strong case to encourage installers to buy parts from reputable sources to guarantee they know exactly what they are getting.

It's worth noting that in the case of counterfeit spares, the producer of the parts is classed as the manufacturer, distributor and seller, meaning that once the part is placed in an appliance they are liable for it, alongside the installer. If the producer is advertising their parts to fit a particular make/model, they are also contravening copyright and trademark law, leaving them open to prosecution from the original manufacturer.

Refurbished parts are also subject to legal implications. The General Product Safety legislation (Directive 2001/95/EC) orders that they have to be safe, fit for purpose and that whoever purchases the product is not misled into thinking it is a brand new part. To ensure this clause is not breached, all markings from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) must be removed, and the person who reconditions the part becomes the producer and is therefore liable.

Modified parts come under the same directives as refurbished parts if they have been altered after refurbishment, but are also regulated under additional directives if they have been modified from new. Either way, the modifier is still seen as the producer and is therefore liable for the product's safety.

What's more, modified parts can easily contravene the Sales of Goods Act 1979, which requires new or second hand parts to fit their description, be fit for purpose and be of satisfactory quality. Here, the seller and producer would both be liable and hold responsibility.

It's clear to see that the use of non-genuine parts is more than just manufacturers trying to boost sales of their own parts - it's an important safety consideration, and this is why it is so tightly shrouded in law. The safety implications are huge, and an installer could unknowingly be jeopardising a homeowner and their property by using them.

To raise awareness of the repercussions of using non-genuine spare parts, merchants have an important part to play in educating their installer customers about the dangers and championing high quality spares to improve standards and safety across the heating industry.

David Willetts

David Willetts - General Manager at Baxi Genuine Parts.

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