- Helping you drive happy

Accessories from car companies could be good for consumers

Quality car insurance coverage, at competitive prices.
Ask for a car insurance quote today.
Even if the choice only involved what color of blanket to put on theirlaps, people have been personalizing their cars since they were quite literallyhorseless carriages.

Since then the amount of customization has increased exponentially to thepoint where the annual expenditures in North America is into the billions of dollars,but for various reasons the car companies have for the most part let the tradeand the profits go to other firms.

Recently, however, many of the car companies have been taking steps to keepgrowing amounts of that money for bigger wheels and plastic body parts andengine upgrades and what have you for themselves.

As it happens, this can be very good news for the consumer, for warranty,financing, resale and possibly even safety reasons we'll consider in a minute.

No one has put more effort into the personalization business than GeneralMotors, and the world's biggest car company is this week putting on an enormousdisplay of what such parts can do for its vehicles at the annual gathering of aftermarketequipment businesses in Las Vegas.

Every one of the firm's North American divisions has products on displayat the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association meeting, which is open tothe trade only.

This is not new, of course, since the companies have always tried to showthe aftermarket parts people how they could use their vehicles to make money,and that continues. But more than ever, GM's display cars this year feature wheelsand other accessories from the company's own Service and Parts Operations (SPO)division.

SPO has been working like crazy the past few years to develop theseparts, and that is starting to pay off. Jim Taylor, the Canadian-born generalmarketing manager for Cadillac worldwide, says ''our SPO guys are finallygetting a decent critical mass of parts, wheels and so on to attract the dealerto use them instead of the stuff from the down-the-street bump shop whoseexecution is always suspect.''

Taylor's comments play up the key issue for the person who is willing topay for bigger wheels or special body parts or whatever. Along with qualitystandards that GM promises will be higher, the SPO wheels and other accessoriesare also covered as part of the new car warranty, and can be included in thefinancing if they're ordered along with the new car. If you buy them fromanother company, it means cash, cheque or credit card.¸

Increasingly, these parts are also now included in the car's residualvalue, which means their value is counted as part of the car when the consumertrades it in or sells it down the road.

This is a particularly big deal with luxury brands such as Cadillac,Taylor says. ''If a customer drops $6,000 for a set of 20-inch wheels andcorresponding tires, he would like to get half of that back at the end of thelease -- if the parts are included in the residualization.''

If the parts aren't included, Taylor says, ''as they aren't if you buy fromanother company -- then it is all on the customer's dime, or you need to save thewheels that came off and put them back on when you turn in the lease vehicle.''You're then left with wheels that may not fit the next vehicle you lease, orthat you have to sell privately.

The safety aspect of parts from another company is particularly importantwith regard to tires and wheels. GM and lots of other car companies have beenexpressing concern lately over the inability of some accessory companies tomount the tires and wheels that are the right size for the vehicle. A bad fitcan result in a poor ride and/or compromised handling, and that can void awarranty and possibly your insurance as well.