Commentary: No Free Lunch When It Comes to Parts

May 2017, - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood

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Rolf Lockwood
Rolf Lockwood

Counterfeit, will-fit, or knockoff truck parts remain a serious issue, and you should be concerned. There’s a difference between those three, but in the end, one old rule applies: You get what you pay for. And when you see a brake drum or a trailer light or even a wheel fastener that’s cheaper than normal, cheaper than it ought to be, your too-good-to-be-true antennae should be picking up a signal.

Some cheaper parts, usually made offshore in places like India and China, might well be worth your money, but this is definitely buyer-beware territory. And an out-and-out counterfeit is potentially a source of real woe, not to mention the illegal side of it that robs the legitimate manufacturer of rightful profit and can mar its good name.

If you’re doubting me here, just think about this: Hundreds of people have been killed over the years in air crashes blamed not on storms or terrorists but on “unapproved parts.” The Federal Aviation Administration keeps track of such things, of course, and as of a few years back it blamed nearly 200 airplane accidents on poor-quality counterfeit or knockoff parts that just weren’t up to the manufacturer’s design criteria.

The problem was big enough that the FAA established the “Suspected Unapproved Parts Program Office” to deal with the issue.

I know of one truck maker caught in this way, having bought wheel fasteners from a cheaper-than-normal source for use on its assembly line. The wheel nuts in question had been correctly marked, but metallurgically they were not what they pretended to be. They’d been bought offshore, in good faith of course, but the quality was sufficiently low that they caused a wreck and killed a four-wheeler in the process.

I happened to be in the plant manager’s office when he took the call, informing him of the crash investigator’s conclusions blaming the fasteners. He was devastated, nearly brought to tears. Innocent, but oh so guilty.

If it can happen to a major truck maker with a big purchasing department, the individual truck owner is even more easily caught out this way.

To define things a little better, a “counterfeit” part is exactly what the word implies — it’s a part made and packaged to look exactly like the real thing. Sometimes they’re very hard to tell from the actual OEM component because the box has been printed as an exact replica and the part number is correct. The piece itself may be hard to distinguish as a copy even if you look at it side by side with the real thing. In some cases only a metallurgical test would divulge the counterfeit’s real nature.

Your only defense is to deal with reputable suppliers who, we hope, have done their own homework. And, again, to distrust anything that sounds too good to be true. There simply ain’t no free lunch.

A will-fit, perhaps better called a knockoff, will not pretend to be anything but a cheaper version of the original, but it may claim to be just as good. Almost inevitably, it isn’t. Nowhere is this more troublesome than with brake system components, precisely where you can’t afford mistakes with poorly manufactured parts.

Obviously, you owe it to yourself — and everyone around your trucks on the road — to buy carefully.


  1. 1. Russ [ May 16, 2017 @ 03:27AM ]

    I left the trucking industry for a few years to go work in the oilfields. While working as a pipe welder in a natural gas compressor station I learned of counterfeit parts. We had to watch for counterfeit valves, while they looked the same, they all had the same serial number which was the give away, and would not hold up to the high pressures that they needed to operate at.

  2. 2. MC [ May 16, 2017 @ 06:49AM ]

    I've been in the transportation industry for over 20 years, and one thing that I have noticed that seems true wherever I went is that parts employees are treated like second-class citizens. They're the lowest-paid, least appreciated, and most mistreated non-janitorial employees in every dealership, manufacturing plant or repair facility I've ever worked for. These people are your last line of defense against things like counterfeit parts making it on your truck or equipment. Unfortunately due to stress and/or high turnover rates, these people are ones most-likely to be under-trained, disgruntled, or have "checked-out" because they're think about their next job.


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