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Phony designer handbags…fake Rolex watches…buy these without realizing it and you’ll undoubtedly overpay for inferior products. Your wallet and your ego will both take a hit, but you’ll survive. But if you purchase fake aftermarket truck parts, the results can be disastrous.

The ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council’s Counterfeit Parts Task Force states that, although it is hard to estimate the exact cost for the trucking industry, based on Federal Trade Commission reports “counterfeiting represents a $12 billion per year problem for the entire automotive industry.”

But the cost factor is the least of the problems. These fakes are made to look the same as an OEM or legitimately re-engineered aftermarket component, not necessarily perform the same. They are often constructed of substandard materials that easily succumb to shear and other weather and road related issues. According to the TMC, a single counterfeit brake valve can decrease the overall performance of a truck’s brake system. Imagine if one of your vehicles, carrying a full load, has a compromised braking system. And this is far from a North American problem only.

In India, it is estimated that up to 20% of all road accidents are due to counterfeit parts. In Saudi Arabia, the estimate is that 50% of all traffic accident deaths are due to these fake parts. If accidents occur, here in the U.S. or abroad, it’s the shop owner, the distributor, and the fleet owner who are held legally responsible, not the counterfeiter.

Because almost all of the counterfeit parts are manufactured overseas, there are limits to what government agencies can do to control this epidemic. With new technologies, counterfeiters are able to match paints and create packaging, labels, and security codes that are almost indistinguishable from legitimate parts and undetectable by many shop owners and technicians. And with so many businesses trying to control costs, this is the perfect opportunity for counterfeiters to sell their goods.

Stephane Godbout, vice president of fleet management for location Brossard NationaLease in Quebec has been dealing with this issue for a long time. “Cheapest is not always the least expensive. It’s all about the cost per kilometer,” he said. “Fifty percent off may not turn out to be the deal of the century. Companies have to be proactive, not reactive. They have to know what to look for, especially when the price seems too cheap. The biggest issues occur with brake parts. A counterfeit brake drum may be only half the weight of the legitimate part. But you need to have good, capable parts and shop managers who have knowledge about what they’re installing. We make sure we know what to look for and keep our people informed as to why we put our trust in such a part or a brand. We are always suspicious if something seems too good to be true.”

So what can you do to keep this from happening to your fleet? What should you be looking for?

  • Price – If prices seem to be relatively consistent across the industry and you find this amazing deal, you might be smart to just walk away.
  • Suppliers – You probably have suppliers you’ve been dealing with for years; suppliers you trust. Stick with them. Most reputable manufacturers sell directly to distributors through their own reps. Purchase brand name parts made by full service aftermarket suppliers who stand behind their products.
  • Quality issues – Pay very close attention to detail, especially if the country of origin is different than what you would expect. Does the product feel too light or too heavy? Is the color correct? Does the company logo look slightly different than normal? Make sure to check the part numbers and RMA codes. Last but not least, if you’re not sure, call the manufacturer directly.
  • Installation problems – The product looks right, but it doesn’t fit the way it’s supposed to. Again, call the manufacturer directly.

Remember, using counterfeit parts unknowingly does not relieve you of responsibility should an accident occur. And substandard parts actually diminish the life cycle of your fleet, so in the long run, as Stephane Godbout said, “Cheapest is not always the least expensive.”

Have you had any issues with counterfeit parts? How do you control your purchasing to guarantee that you get what you pay for?

Jane Clark is vice president of member services for NationaLease. Before joining the full service truck leasing organization, she served in executive positions with some of the nation’s top staffing and recruitment agencies.

(Editors' Note: This material was chosen and edited by HDT's editorial staff as something we believed would be of interest and use to our readers.)