The stakes of a low-price gamble

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Talk about counterfeits and most people do not have warning bells and whistles going off in their heads. Some may think of fake purses or tennis shoes they picked up on the cheap. Others aren't too worried about the stack of DVDs they picked up on the corner with the fuzzy movie that's still in theaters.

Turn that conversation to heavy-duty truck parts. That's when bells and whistles should go off. At the very least, the hair on your neck could stand up. Because according to the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association and other industry groups, it's not just saving money. It's taking a big gamble on your equipment and safety. Taking it a step further, the money you spend on counterfeit products may be going toward more than funding a lavish lifestyle of an unscrupulous business's leadership.

Counterfeiting is nothing new

The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition was founded in 1979 and is the longest-standing organization dedicated to combating the manufacture and sale of all counterfeit goods. Always focused on public health and safety, the group has brought together the public and private sectors to work as partners to stop the production and sale of counterfeit goods.

More recently in terms of decades, equipment manufacturers domestically have joined in on the fight of battling what is considered to be a $12 million industry.

Who benefits?

The answer to that question has evolved over the years. It's one that now has terrorist groups as one of the benefactors.

For more than a decade, the U.S. government has identified counterfeit goods production and sale as a means for terrorist organizations to fund their activities. Pressure stepped up after 9/11 to clamp down on fraudulent banking activities, drug dealing and other "common" crimes.

Counterfeiting was identified in a 2005 Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs as "a fertile and growing source of financing for terrorists."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in her opening remarks for that hearing that drawing attention will "lead consumers to reject these low-cost street corner bargains because, in fact, they carry a terrible price."

Threat to trucking

The Technology and Maintenance Council reported in January 2012 that the risks of counterfeit parts can be "catastrophic."

The group identified counterfeit parts ranging from bolts and fasteners all the way up to braking and suspension components along with electrical and lighting systems.

The parts are built with substandard materials and are not entirely up to specification. That allows them to be sold for roughly 60 percent of the cost of an authentic part and still make a nice profit. To the naked eye, the part will look OK all the way down to the company's logo that's been stamped on the part or packaging.

To highlight just how substandard the materials can be in counterfeit products, there were cases out of Nigeria where brake pads were made of compressed grass. In 1997, brake pads made of sawdust caused a school bus to catch on fire, killing seven children.

While those examples are extreme, even the smallest of parts failing can not only cause safety concerns but also cause damage to your truck. For example, TMC says that even one counterfeit brake valve significantly decreases the overall performance of a truck's brake system. Bendix reported a truck that suffered $10,000 in damages because a dryer cartridge in a remanufactured Bendix AD-9 dryer was counterfeit. The fake cartridge broke down, sending powdery residue throughout many components of the braking system and causing them to be replaced.

Protect yourself

It's not as hard as it may seem to protect yourself from purchasing counterfeit products.

The Technology and Maintenance Council stresses that you should buy only from reputable, trusted parts suppliers.

While nefarious types can infiltrate even reputable supply chains, by buying a product from a reputable dealer the chances of unknowingly buying a counterfeit product are significantly reduced. And even if you do happen to purchase one, warranty programs will help you get a genuine replacement part.

That includes online dealers. In the quest to find the cheapest price, do not abandon trusted name-brand services with aggressive warranty programs in the search for a deal. TMC says once the price of a part dips 35 percent below the prevailing price, you should be concerned that the part may not be authentic.

Reputable manufacturers put their products through rigorous testing. Dealers of authentic products are generally versed in the tested specifications and should be able to provide them to you along with certification reports on the product in question, according to TMC.

If you bought the part yourself, inspect it. Does the packaging and logo work look authentic? Does the part "feel" right? Is it too heavy or too light?

Parts and service technicians are also a great resource in helping you make sure you're putting a genuine part on your truck. Ask them to look the part over and get their opinion. The part should install with relative ease (for the part, as some are easier to install than others). If it's not fitting correctly, ask for a replacement on the spot.

Finally, the simplest test of all: Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. LL