Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Counterfeit car parts pose danger to UAE drivers

We examine the problem of counterfeit parts, which can pose serious dangers to motorists who are desperate to save money.
Genuine Nissan parts at the car company’s service centre in Mussaffah. Delores Johnson / The National
Genuine Nissan parts at the car company’s service centre in Mussaffah. Delores Johnson / The National

Luxury goods, as we’re all well aware, are constantly replicated and sold. And while that fake leather purse, wristwatch or set of Beats headphones might convince certain people that you have more money than you really possess, you know it’s not the genuine item. For most of us, that isn’t an issue, and we can take pleasure from owning something that looks gorgeous but cost a fraction of the price of the real deal – putting to one side any thoughts that you’re supporting gangs of criminals or worse by buying it in the first place.

There’s more to counterfeit goods, however, than fake ­Montblanc sunglasses or Chanel handbags being flogged in backstreets. And if you thought the motoring industry was safely off limits for fakers, think again. We’re not talking about imitation cars – although certain ­Chinese manufacturers could be accused of producing such things – but fake parts and accessories.

For many of us, counterfeit parts won’t ever be an issue – we have our cars serviced, maintained and repaired at authorised franchise facilities, and pay handsomely for the privilege. But for those on a strict budget, sourcing parts and fitting them might be the only way to keep motoring within tight financial limits – after all, running a car can be a costly business. But stop and think: what price do you put on your life or the lives of others? Fitting counterfeit parts to your car could be the most costly thing you have ever done.

It’s important to note at this point that imitation parts aren’t the same as “aftermarket” items. There are countless companies manufacturing and supplying brake components, clutch plates, engine internals and all manner of spares that you might need during the course of your car’s lifespan, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. They’re made to the same specifications as original manufacturer items, and usually less expensive, as I found to my own benefit recently, when I had new brake discs and pads fitted to my Volkswagen. The work was carried out by a marque specialist that offered to supply genuine Volkswagen branded parts, but I saved thousands of dirhams by having them sourced elsewhere. But – and this is key – they weren’t passed off as genuine spares. The problem we have in this country and elsewhere, is with parts labelled, boxed and branded as genuine when they’re anything but.

The UAE Government is, quite rightly, determined to stamp out the trade in counterfeit goods, and the issue of fake car parts is taken extremely seriously by officials. To assist in their quest to rid the country of potentially lethal spurious car parts, manufacturers are joining forces with the police and other government departments to offer their expertise and assistance.

Mohammed Abdul Samad, ­Nissan Middle East’s regional aftersales deputy general manager, views the supply of fake automobile parts as a “cancer” – one he’s determined to cut out, cure and do away with forever. He says this isn’t only because his employer misses out on revenue – the issue directly impacts Nissan and other brands in plenty of other ways.

“We want our customers to enjoy every aspect of owning a Nissan – whether it’s a new one or used,” he says, “and the prospect of having them fitted with counterfeit parts is extremely worrying.

“It really is the cancer of the car industry, and it keeps growing and mutating. This imitation of our brand’s image and the supply of substandard components can have a strong and negative impact on perception of brand quality in the minds of ­customers.”

He says the reason the UAE keeps being infiltrated by fakers is its enviable status as a regional distribution hub, via which everything you can think of is exported to Africa and other countries from the Far East. “Most of the goods come through Jebel Ali or Sharjah. And step-by-step, it became a problem – the profit margins for criminals were high. Big brands are always the focus – customers believe they are genuine parts, but they’re looking for a bargain, and are taken in by what they see. They’re also tempted sometimes because availability is rarely an issue, and they might not want to wait for authentic spares to be ordered and supplied.”

To highlight the problem and raise awareness of the potential implications from fitting spurious parts, he says Nissan sponsors various safety campaigns and conducts training seminars with customs officers so they can identify forgeries, as well as continue the educating so people to avoid buying them in the first place. “We’re very active on this, and officials are quick to take action and make arrests,” he says. Stocks are seized, fines dished out. Potentially, those dealing in counterfeit parts can end up in prison.

Nissan isn’t alone in taking the fight to those involved in this illegal trade. Al-Futtaim Motors, the distributor of Toyota in the UAE, recently announced that last year, it joined forces with “several law firms and the UAE Economic & Development Departments” to conduct 26 raids that led to the confiscation of Dh31.3 million worth of counterfeit parts, with offenders being handed Dh750,000 in fines. The raids took place in Dubai, ­Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain, resulting in more than 220,000 products being seized, from engine oil, lubricants, air and fuel filters to brake discs and pads.

Ralf Zimmermann, the general manager for aftersales at Al-­Futtaim, says that his company has been making a great deal of progress in the past few years, prosecuting those in the supply chain and educating the public, particularly the groups most susceptible to this end of the market. “In the long run,” he says, “the costs savings from counterfeit products are diminished because of highly degraded quality that requires more frequent replacing, aside from being unsafe and potentially endangering the lives of drivers and passengers.”

What’s the worst that can happen if you buy and fit fake items? If it’s something relatively simple, such as an air or fuel filter, your engine’s performance might suffer slightly, but it’s not that big a deal. If it’s counterfeit oil, then your engine could suffer internal damage or premature wear – something that might only harm your car’s next owner. It’s when it comes to the essential items that protect motorists and those around them that serious consequences are startlingly real. Brake pads and discs, tyres, suspension components – if they fail, then the worst-case scenario is that multiple deaths can result.

Samad gives some pertinent examples: “We know of serious engine damage being done because of fake oil filters, and when we inspected some fake airbags, we discovered they were without triggers, so they would not have deployed in a collision.”

He says the parts and their packaging can sometimes be so convincing that only expert laboratory analysis can detect whether or not they’re the real deal, which highlights the importance of buying only from reputable companies. “New technology makes it easier than ever before to copy packaging with accuracy,” he sighs. “Even hologram security stickers. And we’re finding that after a new model is launched, fake parts are now becoming commonplace within two years, which is much quicker than what we were used to.”

I have seen with my own eyes people at Chinese motor shows using tape measures to gather data that will allow them to replicate seat runners in Porsche Cayennes. I have seen them peering through radiator grills with torches, and taking photographs of otherwise hidden components, undoubtedly so they can be remanufactured. Samad says the problem is so huge that it can’t be dealt with at source. All anyone can do is stay alert and prevent the goods ending up in our marketplace, prosecuting offenders when they are caught, and removing their products from the supply chain.

Whatever we consume – food, drink, entertainment, clothing, even the tyres our cars ride on – it’s incumbent on us all to know where they originate. Ignorance isn’t bliss, nor is it a valid excuse when things go wrong. If that price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Walk away. Live to drive another day – the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

How to avoid counterfeit car parts

It’s estimated the counterfeit-car-parts industry is worth Dh30 billion a year. The packaging is often as convincing as the real thing, so you need to have your wits about you to make sure that you fit only good-quality spares to your car.

You don’t have to go to an official dealer to source original parts, no matter what they might tell you, and once your car is out of warranty, it probably makes sense to use an independent specialist for any required work. These companies can order genuine parts or “aftermarket” ones – if you buy brake pads made by Brembo, for instance, you will be getting quality parts that meet or exceed a car company’s specification, often for less money. Buy fake pads, however, and you might find they’re held together with glue and won’t last the drive home.

Genuine parts are labelled with batch codes and dates of manufacture, so check these carefully, and if the label features wording in a foreign language, it might be worth running some of those words through Google Translate. Also, it’s worth remembering that garages and specialists can be prosecuted for supplying and fitting counterfeit parts, so always remember your rights as a consumer. But according to those in the know, buying car parts over the internet is where the biggest dangers lurk, so check everything very carefully when your order arrives – your life could depend on it.

motoring@thenational.ae

Updated: April 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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