Imitations in the car: how to recognize counterfeit spare parts

Imitations in cars: How to recognize counterfeit spare parts. Car check: A counterfeit spare part can become a problem at the latest during the general inspection. (Source: dpa/Robert Gunther)

The price sounds tempting. Brake discs cost less than half as much. But the replacement part is fake. The supposed bargain can turn out to be a very dangerous purchase on the road. How to protect yourself as a car owner from such mispurchases?

First of all: what a spare part is, who is allowed to manufacture and market it, and the requirements that a spare part must meet – all this is regulated by an EU block exemption regulation. Many parts may be legally imitated, provided they are of the same quality as the parts from the vehicle manufacturer.

Frequent counterfeiting

The problem is spare parts that look like the original parts but are of much poorer quality. Often counterfeited are:

  • Steering parts
  • V-belt
  • Light bulbs
  • Brake pads
  • Brake discs
  • Oil, gasoline and air filters

The counterfeiters work very precisely: in addition to the spare parts, the packaging, test marks and safety holograms are usually based one-to-one on the original, says thomas fischer, chairman of the verein freier ersatzteilemarkt (vrei), an association representing the interests of auto parts manufacturers.

Protection against counterfeit parts

Particularly in the case of safety-relevant components such as brakes or steering, the inferior material can fail under certain circumstances and lead to accidents. "If a brake pad suddenly doesn’t pack properly, it can be life-threatening", says fischer.

He advises consumers to compare prices critically: "if spare parts on the internet are clearly too cheap, then doubts are advisable." in his opinion, drivers can only be protected from counterfeit parts if they buy them from reputable sources, such as a well-known dealer or their own workshop.

These counterfeits are dangerous

hobby mechanics should not work on safety-relevant components anyway, says fischer. This is a matter for a specialist workshop. I usually order the spare part in the course of the repair.

Thomas caasmann from the testing organization GTu sees the danger of counterfeit spare parts especially in the case of

  • Rims
  • parts for brakes and suspension
  • Electronic components
  • Control units
  • Sensors
  • Lambda sensors
  • Parts for mixing regulation

Indications of imitation

He advises buying parts from the vehicle manufacturer or the original parts supplier and not from unknown internet stores. He also points out that price is not everything. "If a spare part is offered at an extremely low price, either the seller doesn’t know what it’s worth. Or it is stolen goods. Or counterfeit. Then the alarm bells must go off", he says. Bargains in any case, there are as good as no more.

Customers can recognize cheap and poorly made imitations by the absence of the manufacturer’s name, trademark and original packaging. Customers can compare the alleged original part with the real original model. But with well-made fakes it is difficult to recognize an imitation.

Safety-relevant components with ABE only

In general, every accessory must have a valid general operating permit (ABE), a type approval or a parts report. Thus it is subject to a prescribed testing procedure and its manufacture to quality management.

Whether there is a risk from counterfeit spare parts depends on the component. "A fake exhaust muffler will be louder in the worst case and does not meet the emission standards. A brake disc, on the other hand, can break and cause an accident", says thorsten rechtien from tuv rheinland.

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Rechtien advises car drivers to buy spare parts only from reputable and trustworthy dealers. During a main inspection (HU), inspectors would usually recognize badly falsified parts and refuse to issue an HU sticker or an entry in the vehicle registration certificate.

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Christina Cherry
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