While perhaps not as pervasive as they once were, counterfeit truck parts continue to surface in the aftermarket. In 2012, The Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) issued an information report on the risks posed by counterfeit parts. Not only do counterfeit parts cost the industry money, but they represent a significant safety risk.
In the report, TMC defined counterfeit parts as, “An imitation that is made usually with the intent to deceptively represent its content or origins. Any misrepresentation of an OEM component or any act that constitutes an infringement of trademark, copyright, or patent.”
Henry Foxx, director of remanufactured products at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, defines a counterfeit part this way: “It is a product that resembles an original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) product from an aesthetic and appearance standpoint, but was manufactured without authorization from the OEM and not to OEM specs.”
Regardless of which definition you use, there are steps you can take to ensure you do not inadvertently purchase a counterfeit part.
- Establish trusted sources: Buy parts from authorized distributors only. Manufacturers authorize firms to sell their products and buying from authorized sources is a great way to protect your business. Once you have developed a network of suppliers, make sure all your parts purchases go through those suppliers. Rich Nagel, director of marketing and customer solutions – air charging at Bendix, says that can be difficult when a truck breaks down while on the road. “When using contracted labor or contracted service garages, make sure they adhere to your approved parts list. Have a list of what is acceptable and insist the service provider purchase only products that meet your specs.”
- Investigate any new supplier: When considering switching parts suppliers make sure to thoroughly investigate them. Look at how long they have been in business, what industry association affiliations they have and ask if they offer genuine brands. Confirm that by going to the manufacturer’s website where you should be able to find a list of authorized sellers. Ask new suppliers for the country of origin of their products. Although not all products manufactured off shore are counterfeit, there are certain countries where counterfeiting is more rampant.
- Look inside the box: Counterfeiters have gotten quite adept at copying the packaging parts come in. Make sure to open the box and look at the part itself. Even though it can be difficult to spot a counterfeit, it is still worth looking at the part. To protect themselves from counterfeiting, many manufacturers will have their logo cast into the product itself. Check the logo against the known logo of the supplier. Also pick up the product. Does it feel too light or too heavy? Is it the correct color?
- Look for markings: Trade dress relates to the visual appearance of a product. A trade dress is typically a non-functional element that is added to a product. For example, Bendix has what looks like reinforcement ribs on its compressors. But, according to Foxx, those ribs serve no function.
- Ask for products by name: Regardless of the part, if you want a product from a certain manufacturer, make sure you let your parts supplier know that you want product only from that manufacturer and that you will not accept a substitute.
- Don't be cheap: Every fleet is trying to save money, but when it comes to parts, be leery of buying something that is well below the price you normally pay. Every supplier offers parts specials and there are internet pricing specials, but those still typically fall into a range. It’s a good idea to stay away from a part that is offered to you outside the normal price range. HDA Truck Pride believes that quality products come from manufacturers that invest in research and development of new technologies. “These manufacturers adhere to the highest standards and industry testing and tolerances, including TMC best practices,” the marketing group says. Chances are manufacturers of extremely low priced products will have compromises in material quality to be able to offer those low prices. Products may not have been validated and tested for safety or durability — two things that are very important to most fleets.
Even though the threat from counterfeit parts has seemed to ease somewhat, it is still a good idea to be vigilant about taking steps to protect your fleet. The safety and efficiency of your fleet rests on having parts you can rely on.