FCAI warns against aftermarket ute trays…but should you be worried?

Genuine is best says FCAI
Image supplied by FCAI with its release about ute tray testing.

The FCAI has warned against fitting aftermarket ute trays to utes after the testing (by Toyota) and failure of non-genuine trays. But is this all nonsense?

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has been running a Geninue is Best campaign for some time now, saying only genuine parts should be used on your car. Here at MotoFomo, we couldn’t agree more.

However, the FCAI’s use of the word ‘genuine’, is in fact, non-genuine.

It says that “genuine parts” have been “Made or selected by the vehicle’s maker”, which is what the rest of the world calls an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) part. In fact, there are many aftermarket parts which are not OEM parts, and don’t pretend to be anything else….so those parts are also genuine.

It seems to me the FCAI is cleverly mis-using the word ‘genuine’ to imply that only OEM parts are genuine, and anything else is potentially a risk to your car. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Aussie car owners who save money and/or improve performance by using aftermarket parts. In a lot of cases, the aftermarket part is actually better quality or value, or both than the OEM. It would need to be, because otherwise, who’d buy it?

I think everybody would agree that poor-quality parts have no place on any car, no matter who makes them. So on the face of it, the recent test by Toyota and the FCAI of aftermarket ute trays would seem to be community-spirited. Here’s what they said:

“Testing by Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) initiative Genuine is Best has found non-genuine utility tray bodies can cause significant damage to the original vehicle and compromise its safety.

“Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) testing of two non-genuine utility tray bodies saw trays fail on several critical criteria. The aftermarket trays cracked chassis rails in durability testing, corroded rapidly in corrosion testing and were built with unacceptable weld quality. There was evidence of the trays separating from their mounting points on the vehicles.

“The investigation was carried out by an OEM engineering department on two non-genuine products promoted for fitment on one of Australia’s most popular utilities. The tray bodies were exposed to the same validation process used by the brand to ensure a genuine tray body is fit for a lifetime of use.”

A lot to unpack there. First off, independence. It’s not a good look for anyone test their own product against a competitor and publicise the result. To be credible, you’d engage a neutral, trusted third-party to do the job.

After reading the press release, I had a few questions to put to the FCAI. The first concerned the standard the aftermarket tray was built to. Toyota, like other ute makers, fully expects its utes to have custom bodies and trays built for them. Evidence for this is the fact the Hilux is sold as a cab-chassis, and there is something called a Body Builder’s Guide which lays out instructions for how to build trays and bodies. Here’s an except from the Hilux BBG as an example:

And, I bet if you asked them, they wouldn’t say “we do not recommend people fit non-Toyota bodies to Hilux or 70 Series”. So, my first question was if the aftermarket tray was compliant with the Guide. Here’s what I got back from an FCAI spokesperson:

“We contacted the TMCA engineer charged with executing and evaluating the testing, his response was that Toyota is unable to answer for an aftermarket company or their product, as the brand has no way of knowing if they have or have not complied with the carmaker’s Body Builders Guide. Apologies for the somewhat unhelpful answer.”

Well, I would have thought they might have asked the company in question, for starters. So I asked a more detailed question:

1. Did the aftermarket tray at least comply with:

  • a) the correct dimensions (eg length, overhang, width), such as those specified in this Toyota BBG
  •  b) mounting points

And the answer I got was: “Will continue to push for an answer on that one for you from TMCA”.

That was on the 27th of April, and I wasn’t hopeful then, and I’m not now. How hard can it be to take a tape measure and check simple dimensions such as length, overhang, width, and use of the correct mounting points as clearly specified in the BBG, see image above? Even I can do that.

The reason this question is important is because if the tray was not compliant with the BBG, then it shouldn’t have been tested as of course it was likely to fail, and casts those trays which are compliant in a poor light. And if the tray was compliant to the BBG, then why did it fail? Either it was poor build quality, or the BBG’s specs led it to fail. I asked how the tray failed, exactly, and the answer was:

“Two aftermarket trays were tested against an OEM unit. Both aftermarket trays failed in fatigue testing, corrosion resistance salt spray and structural weld cut inspections. The aftermarket units cracked, separated from bearers, cracked the vehicle chassis, rusted quickly and were built with inadequate weld penetration. The genuine tray passed all tests”.

That could be a poorly made compliant tray, or it could be a well-made tray which doesn’t comply with the BBG. We don’t know. We also don’t know how the tray was marketed; for example, maybe it was a designed as a very cheap tray for light loads only, and being compared to a premium tray.

So I also asked who made the tray, and got this: “Will continue to push for an answer on that one for you from TMCA”.

The quality of trays varies widely. We have no way of knowing which one was used in testing. Why not name the maker? If it’s that bad a tray, shouldn’t we be told so we can avoid it? Or, maybe work with the tray maker to improve their product? What reason could there be to keep the maker name quiet, if you’re confident of the results of a fair test? When we test products as journalists, we don’t say “one failed, but we won’t tell you which one, just be careful out there”.

Then I asked this: ‘Given that utes are sold as cab-chassis, and BBGs exist, then it is logical to assume that carmakers are happy for bodies/trays etc to be built for them. In that case, how can bodymakers ensure their products are fit for purpose?  Will the test process and/or criteria be released, as it is for example to get a towbar and towball ADR certified? If this isn’t done, then how can bodymakers be sure a carmaker won’t simply take their product and subject it to undisclosed tests and say it failed?’

The answer: “The tests have been disclosed above. I am pushing with TMCA to see if I can release the cycle times for their products and the points at which the aftermarkets unit failed”.

No, the test criteria haven’t been released. In order to replicate the test you need way more information than, “we did a fatigue test”. And as I stated in the questions, there are very specific tests in the ADRs, for example towballs need to survive very specific forces in very specific directions for very specific periods of time.

I also wanted to know if it was a like-with-like as Toyota sell both steel and aluminium trays for different price/strength tradeoffs. So I asked: ‘the tray pictured is I believe a heavy-duty steel tray. Was the aftermarket tray an equivalent model? Are there different test regimes for the aluminium and steel versions of the tray?’ and the answer I got was: “Again, apologies I can’t help with that one, will continue to push with Toyota”.

As an example, you can take an OEM shock absorber (damper) for a 4X4, and an heavy-duty aftermarket unit, and run them both on dynos. Guess which one will overheat, cavitate and fail first? The OEM. I know, I’ve actually seen this test for myself. Does that make the OEM a bad shock? No. Could someone write a one-sided story about “poor quality” OEM shocks out of that? Very easy. But you wouldn’t be game to release details, because the evidence wouldn’t support the conclusions.

My thoughts…

So what we have here is an undefined test of an aftermarket tray, made by an unknown manufacturer but tested by one of its competitors, the tray may, or may not have been compliant with Toyota’s own build guidelines, and we don’t know how this unknown tray manufacturer intended their product to be used. And simple questions like “who made the tray”, “was it made of” and “are its dimensions compliant” can’t be answered.

In short, we are asked to simply accept the summary result of “tray failed, therefore anything other than OEM risky” and not provided with any meaningful information about the method, evidence, process.

That’s not good enough for me.

Nobody wants to see poor-quality parts on the market and to that end I applaud any efforts to eradicate dangerous parts, but neither do we want to see the entire aftermarket painted in a poor light because of vague testing with no details provided. The only pushing going here is trying to promote OEM parts, not by saying how good they are, but by denigrating alternatives.

The test would be far more credible if it was done by a third-party, the method and manufacturer made public, all trays were shown to be compliant with Toyota’s own guidelines, and equivalent trays were proven to be tested. As it is, this test proves nothing.

While you’re here subscribe to the MotoFomo Newsletter

Sign Up for the latest news, reviews, advice, buying guides and more delivered to your inbox every week


* indicates required

Previous articleGuide to online racing – how to live with the joy and pain
Next articleMay the Fourth be with you… 5 Star Wars themed cars
Automotive technical journalist specialising in 4X4s, camping, racecars and towing. Has designed and run driving courses covering offroading driving, winching, track racing and towing. Enjoys most things involving wings, wheels or sails. Follow me on Facebook and YouTube if you want explanations you won't find anywhere else!