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The Huge Business in Knock-off Car Parts

It could be the stuff of crime novels or the movies:  forgery hunters ranging globally to track down…the manufacturers of fake car parts – except that the crime itself seems relatively insignificant, the imagined criminals shabby plodders, and the hunt relatively straightforward. The truth, in fact, belies these presumptions.

Parked cars becoming fireballs, airbags failing or exploding, braking systems failing—all of these are actual results of the ‘exploding’ worldwide trade in fake car parts manufactured and distributed by smart, professional fraudsters making millions if not, billions of dollars of profit at relatively low risk of detection and serious penalty.   No surprise then that experts call the current estimate of a 10 percent loss in industrial sales worldwide from a brand and product piracy a growing trend—in the automotive industry forecasted at 9 to 11 percent growth per year.

Oil filters, air filters, brake pads, windshields, steering columns, and wheel rims—the list of the most commonly copied parts is long and growing.  Indeed, the chief forgery hunter at Daimler, Peter Stiefel says, “counterfeit articles include everything from Mercedes-Benz key fobs to an entire vintage 300 SLR —not to mention the full range of replacement parts.”

Experts say that China leads the list of ‘hot spots’ in the forgery business; others include the United Arab Emirates, Southeast Asia, and India. Daimler’s brand protection managers have colleagues in China, Dubai, India, Russia and Turkey who, in turn, “liaise with customs and tax authorities to monitor investigations and raids in their region—most of which are the result of months of painstaking detective work.”

Catching a ‘major player,’ however, can be well worth the intensive effort.  Peter Stiefel describes the result of a large-scale raid initiated by Daimler on a warehouse in Dubai in early 2014 that “unearthed over a million forged car parts—including 123,000 destined to be sold as Mercedes-Benz accessories.  It took over 10 trucks to remove potentially dangerous goods.”

Protection against counterfeit car parts requires awareness of the problem, and willingness to resist the lure of a bargain.  A price that is too good to be true usually means that the product is likely just that—not true.  Buying automotive parts online purely based on price is highly risky. ‘Tip’ websites on this topic point out that, “Some fakes are pretty poor imitations.”

AeroTruckParts.com notes that “brake pads (may contain) sawdust, compressed grass or other inadequate materials … Transmission fluid (maybe) adulterated with dyed oil … and filters may be stuffed with rags.”  But some counterfeits are good enough to even fool the experts, at least temporarily.  Vigilance is needed at the unwrapping stage: watching out for quality packaging displaying the proper name brand, logo, and graphics, and for the distinctive marks such as holographic IDS that some parts manufacturers are now adding in addition to marked serial numbers and their own logos.

The safest approach to servicing your vehicle and ensuring it remains free of counterfeit parts is to deal directly with your vehicle manufacturer’s authorized dealership or an automotive repair business that is willing to show you their invoice from the vehicle manufacturer or parts manufacturer for the products they use. 

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