Light Survey

THROWING SOME LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT

South Africa has one of the most apalling accident statistics in the world - almost every day an average of 30 people die, and hundreds more are injured and maimed. Of less consequence, but incurring enormous costs, are the repair bills for vehicles involved in all road accidents.

The subject under discussion : lights. Drive home any evening and you will see several vehicles on the road with defective lights. How often has a "motorcyle" passed you, only to become a motor car with one light defective when seen from the rear ? This scenario appears doomed to become more and more commonplace - and could cause an even more frightening escalation to our national accident figures.

New legislation comes into effect on January 1st 1998 which could push up the cost of replacement headlights and secondary lights ( tail, indicator, side and brake lights ) by as much as 1,000 %. If replacement lights cannot comply with the SABS specifications, the consumer will be forced to buy only original equipment parts, which could add as much as R300 million to the national motoring bill !

From 1.01.98 all universal lights and lights offered as replacement parts for vehicles registered after July 1987, that do not comply with the standards set by the SABS, MAY NOT be sold. Universal headlights are defined as " a headlight of a design that the use of the headlight will not be limited to a specific model vehicle". The requirements of the SABS are that all lights must meet the technical performance necessary to attain the SABS mark, E mark or "other recognised approval mark compliance with an equivalent specification."

In effect, if you have a car newer than 10 years old, or if your vehicle, no matter what its age, uses universal headlights, you may not replace broken lights with any units which do do meet the SABS standard.

Oscar Taub, President of the Motor Industries' Federation, says that this legislation has been the focus of heated debate between the original equipment manufacturers, the non- branded importers, the MIF and the SABS. Over a number of years tests have been conducted to see what level of quality the various lights meet. For want of a starting point, SABS have based our specification the European standard.

While it may be very laudable to set high standards, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are a third world country with millions of poor motorists, - many who can barely afford to pay R100 for a replacement headlight, let alone R800 - R900. Surely then, the authorities should reason that SOME headlight is better than NO headlight ?

This does not mean that we should throw all our standards out of the window, but rather apply realistic lower ones that will allow the sales of at least some affordable good quality non-branded makes.

Secondly, how do the SABS intend to police this new legislation ? A handful of inspectors are hardly likely to be able to enforce the law effectively. The most likely result is that the large players will be hammered while the small seller sails along unobstrusively, still selling his "illegal" lights.

The SABS derive a levy of 50c per headlight and a lesser levy on secondary lights and globes - over R1 million is collected annually in this way. Is any of this going to be used for policing the new legislation ?

It would seem that the standard set is too high for even original equipment lights to meet in some instances. Headlights from two major vehicle suppliers were tested by the SABS and all failed on dip beam. Yet, being OE equipment, they can still be sold.

Some local manufacturers have taken to selling non-branded lights under names like XXX or replacements parts in OE look- alike boxes, which are only sold through their franchise dealers. This is a replacement part as opposed to a genuine part, - I compared OE and non-branded lights from 4 local dealerships and visually could not tell the difference.

Price discrepencies however were huge. An original equipment tail-lamp bought from the franchise dealer cost R 480-38; the same dealership's look-alike ( made by the Taiwanese company TYC ) cost R102.91 plus VAT and an apparently identical non- branded tail-light ( also TYC ) from an automotive parts dealer in Johannesburg was R40.

The question now arises, will the non-branded OE look-alikes, which are of similar standard to replacement units sold by non-franchise auto parts dealers, also be banned from the market ? Does the fact that they are sold as manufacturers' replacement parts mean that they equivalent to OE parts, - even though they are no different ( except in price ) from units available elsewhere ? If the manufacturers' P&A divisions sell non-branded alternatives they have the same responsibility to ensure that the product complies.

In discussions with senior motor men it has become apparent that if all the unapproved lights were to be removed from the retail shelves on January 1, there would be an immediate shortfall of lights to meet demand. Some analysts feel that it could take as much as a year for supply to stabilise.

Hella SA, which make OE lights for some of our local motor manufacturers, supply only the franchise dealer with these via their P&A divisions. Nigel Curzon, Hella South Africa's Manager of Product Development, says that replacement part volumes in S.A. are so low on many models that it would be impractical to tool up for production. This means that we have to continue to rely on imports.

I have attached a chart supplied to me by the Imported Lights Action Committee, of some comparison prices complied in Johannesburg - the asking price for various OE vs non-branded lights - and it makes horror stories seem tame ! The prices of non-branded are given straight from the importer, supplied over the counter, for cash.

The Imported Lights Action Committee is a group of non- branded light importers who have banded together to lobby for a reduction in the performance specification for lights. They represent a major economic section of the motor parts industry - businesses which will be adversely affected by the pending legislation. Norman Dyer, spokesman for the committee, explained their concerns this way:

"We are concerned at the anticipated huge increase in the cost of lights to the motorist. Those who cannot afford replacement lights will simply go without, making our already bad road safety situation even worse. We are concerned at the loss of revenue, - many businesses will not sell lights if this legislation is put into practice, - and they will lay off staff as a result. The government also stands to lose money from import duties. We are also concerned that the car theft rate will escalate further, - the sale of stolen car parts, lights in particular, will become even more attractive to the criminal element. "

Under the new legislation anyone ( importer, wholesaler, retailer, scrapyard, etc ) intending to sell lights will have to apply to the SABS to have their products tested for approval. How could this possibly be enforced ?

Testing appears lengthy and expensive. The SABS laboratory, I was told, when I asked if I could hire their facilities for a day, is fully booked until the end of the year. The asking price for testing is R1 500 per lamp, which is pretty prohibitive if done individually for each light, by each sales outlet, - particularly if the volume sold is low. The cost would simply be passed on to the consumer. A more cost- effective testing procedure would seem an urgent necessity.

In my opinion, there needs to be an urgent re-think on the whole issue. No-one wants to see our standards drop, but there has to be a realistic balance between what lights are available and what the motoring public can afford.

Not for one minute am I pointing fingers at the manufacturers, - of course they want to keep their standards high, and I firmly believe that original equipment is, or should be, the best buy. But there ARE economic considerations that preclude many people from buying OE lights ( or lights meeting these specifications, should they be similarly priced ) and if the alternative is nothing at all, there is something wrong with our system.

1. Could the SABS not consider lowering the specification ? Instead of within 80% of the E mark, could this not be dropped to perhaps 60% ? Tests could be conducted to determine a good/adequate factor, which would certainly allow some of the better replacement lights to be sold legally. In this way the consumer would have a choice between OE and non-branded - and an acceptable lower cost replacement would be available for those unable to afford the former.

Without doubt there are some dreadful lights - and the authorities should certainly ban those. Also (and this is something that has not been taken into account), lights for left-hand-drive vehicles, which have completely the wrong point of focus and are blinding to oncoming traffic, ( but have the E mark ), are legally available. These presumably will still be so next year and are far more dangerous than a below-standard light.

2. If the SABS insists on its present standard, - instead of applying this law to vehicles homologated after 1987, could this not be made later, - say 1993, - so that only fairly new vehicles need comply ?

A 10-year old vehicle is considered "old", often kept going simply for economic reasons, whereas a 5-year old vehicle is likely to be in good condition and owned by someone better able to afford the extra expense. The MIF estimate the average age of vehicles in SA to be around 11 years - this indicates how many fall into the pre- 1990 age group.

3. Until an efficient method of implementing and enforcing the legislation is devised, which will cover everyone and be fair to all parties concerned, the law should not be enforced.

The SABS probably have a very good idea of which lights are particularly bad - could these simply not be removed from the shelves ? This would get rid of the worst replacement lights, while leaving the better ones still for sale.

4. Our traffic police have a very tough job already, but should the traffic authorities not exercise stronger enforcement of defective lights? This will set a lights standard at ground level, where it really counts.

In an ideal world, we would all drive new model vehicles, - fully legal and 100% roadworthy, and, if we drove within ourselves and with respect for others, the accident rate would drop to zero.

We don't enjoy these wonderful conditions. Many South Africans have to "make do" and while we condemn the unsound "clunkers" which drive around, they are a fact of life and the sole means of mobility for many people. We need to keep them visible.

Let's hope the authorities are realistic and "see the light"!

 

PRICE DIFFERENCE

. . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
ITEM

HEAD

LAMPS

CORNER

LAMPS

TAIL

LAMPS
.

O.E

.

O.E

.

O.E

.
. . . . . . .
HONDA SH4 D/BEAM

678.12

90.00

312.56

27.00

552.63

166.00

MAZDA P3 MK2 HATCH

751.13

101.70

347.85

21.60

729.75

152.10

HONDA SR4

514.17

242.00

182.71

42.00

391.20

166.00

COROLLA AE82

388.33

92.70

167.48

29.70

245.72

77.40

COROLLA EE90

451.92

92.70

191.69

23.40

499.66

85.50

SENTRA MK1

671.34

89.10

117.00

18.90

587.76

88.20

SENTRA MK2

736.86

242.10

138.13

36.00

687.91

101.70

HI-ACE SING SG

173.00

17.10

332.00

23.40

535.74

36.00

HI-ACE DOUBLE SQ

1,015.63

129.00

285.28

17.10

535.74

36.00

HI-ACE CHINA EYE

798.24

206.10

370.79

54.90

535.74

36.00

DATSUN E20

60.00

48.60

484.07

26.10

480.07

43.20

NISSAN E20

109.38

17.10

484.07

26.10

480.07

39.60

GOLF 1

93.96

59.40

0.00

0.00

134.08

69.30

JETTA 1

446.62

130.50

0.00

0.00

295.00

103.50

LASER MK2

811.32

178.20

58.63

50.40

461.82

0.00

NISSAN 140 LDV

145.48

17.00

0.00

0.00

480.38

39.00

SKYLINE NEW ERA

954.95

404.00

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.00