Automotive & Aftermarket News / News & Car Culture

What You Should Know About Counterfeit Parts — and How You Can Avoid Them!

 

On November 2 at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV, U.S. Marshals seized alleged counterfeit aftermarket automotive parts being displayed and sold by six Chinese vendors. The parts infringed on patents and trademarks on products sold by Jeep accessory manufacturer Omix-ADA, which worked directly with SEMA to shut down the alleged counterfeiters.

The raids brought fresh attention to a growing problem in the automotive aftermarket industry: counterfeit and knock-off products.

Although it was big news during the show, industry insiders say the issue of counterfeit parts is hardly breaking news. Following the raids at the SEMA Show, Omix-ADA released an official statement:

“The company views counterfeiting and infringement as a serious and widespread problem in the aftermarket industry and one that can be combated through proper legal channels, and would encourage other members of the aftermarket industry to follow a similar path.”

Aeromotive founder and president Steve Matusek has also seen an increase in counterfeited products.

“The counterfeit product issue is growing,” he said. “It’s not just growing in volume with certain components, it’s growing with more components.”

Counterfeit vs. Knock-Off Products

Counterfeit and knock-off are often used interchangeably; however, there’s a difference.

A knock-off part typically uses patented designs and technology, but usually stop short of using the original part’s name or logo. It is not sold as the original part.

Counterfeit products are usually passed off as the originals they copy, and are designed to intentionally confuse a customer.

counterfeit-automotive-parts-knock2

counterfeit-automotive-parts-knock6

Differences between authentic and counterfeit  parts can be subtle. This is a comparison of an actual MSD 6AL ignition box and a counterfeit. The products look similar, but the real MSD box has the Mag Input on the left.

In the case of the Aeromotive and MSD counterfeits we saw, the differences were so subtle it would be easy for a customer to miss them. For example, the counterfeit Aeromotive products had a copycat Aeromotive logo that closely mimicked the company’s actual logo. Many of the differences between the authentic MSD products and the counterfeits were found inside the ignition box, where the customer isn’t likely to look.

Both companies have been proactive in educating customers on what to look for if they suspect a fake. You can watch the video below for a tutorial on authentic vs. counterfeit Aeromotive products and read an article on MSD counterfeits here.

(story continues below video)

How You Can Avoid Counterfeit Parts

The issue of counterfeit parts isn’t just about corporate patents and trademarks. Counterfeit parts can under-perform, wear out prematurely, and outright fail. As Matusek points out, it can become a financial and safety issue for consumers who purchase the wrong parts.

“You can have problems with not just the product not functioning properly, but you can have a fire,” Matusek said. “We deal with fuel. We take great pains in developing a product and we put a lot of cost into qualifying a product and making sure it’s developed and designed to live in that environment. When these products fail, it can cost you a lot.”

We reached out to SEMA for tips on how consumers can avoid counterfeit parts. The organization stressed the importance of purchasing only from reputable companies and authorized web retailers. SEMA has urged its member companies to provide a list of authorized dealers, but recommends buyers contact the manufacturer if there’s any doubt about the authenticity of a product.

“Purchasing through reputed sales channels can reduce the risk of getting stuck with a counterfeit product,” a SEMA spokesperson said. “If the retailer is new or not well known, consumers should feel comfortable reaching out to the manufacturer to see whether their products are sold through that channel. It is better to take this step and confirm authenticity than to get stuck with a knock-off of inferior quality.”

Aeromotive has taken the extra step of listing non-authorized retailers on its website. As a rule of thumb, it’s also wise to avoid — or use extra caution — when shopping with retailers and large e-commerce sites where instances of counterfeiting is reportedly on the rise.

presentation1

Even packaging can help differentiate between an authentic part and a fake one. For example, this counterfeit Aeromotive 13109 kit is packed in Styrofoam. Aeromotive doesn’t use Styrofoam in any of its packaging.

Finally, compare prices before buying. If the price of a product is significantly lower through one distributor, you should be suspicious and do some further homework.

For its part, the aftermarket industry is also taking steps to make it harder for counterfeiters to succeed.

“SEMA encourages all our members to register their intellectual property with the appropriate government agencies,” SEMA said in an email statement. “New and useful inventions should be protected with patents. Brand names and logos should be registered as trademarks. When the company encounters a counterfeiting situation, it will be in a position to enforce its rights if it has taken these steps ahead of time.”

Many proactive companies have heeded that advice.

“We’ve licensed our trademark in China,” Matusek said. “Now we’re developing some new product that is the next generation of our regulators, similar to our original regulator. It’s the same function with a little bit different aesthetics, but now we have design patents. The reason we have design patents is because now we can go after them legally when they’re infringing on our design patents in China.”

You can also look for legitimate aftermarket companies, like Omix-ADA, to aggressively enforce their rights. Although two companies were served subpoenas and shut down during the SEMA Show raid and four more companies received subpoenas and were shut down at the nearby AAPEX Show, Henk Van Dongen, Omix-ADA’s director of marketing, knows it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We did receive a lot of positive feedback from peer companies, customers, consumers and other interested aftermarket parties,” Van Dongen said of the search-and-seizure operation. “This will be an ongoing discussion within our industry and we are working with different organizations to figure out what the next logical steps are to protect the industry as a whole from the counterfeit issues. This is not just limited to the SEMA Show, but third-party market places like Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay as well.”

Tags: , , , ,

16 Comments

  1. Trump needs to sick one of his Dogs on this.

    • I’ve heard the argument that wish Trump would start taxing import goods to protect/promote American manufacturing. This would be back to the old ways. It is something I agree with actually, Free Trades is ultimately bad for everyone, in my opinion.

      • Davivd Appleton says:

        so when your american companies notice they have less competition you don’t think they will stop innovating and try their best to make a good product at a affordable price then like they have to do now ???? …history dictates otherwise so for example you would like your car industry to go back to making terrible expensive cars then
        The main problem has always been is western manufacturing dont pull its finger out fast enough

  2. I would have much more sympathy for the knocked-off companies, if their production was made in USA, instead of China. Sell your soul for profit, you kind of deserve what you get.

    • I agree, greed for the highest profit has caused the knock off market from the same sources in China. If you deal with the devil you get burned

    • I agree , MSD has stuff made in China , but they dont like knock offs being sold. If , a company uses their name on a knock off , then that is way wrong .If a company sells a product that looks and works like their’s , we have patent laws to use in court . But dont cry when you get stuff made elsewhere and want the U.S. courts to use my american tax money to help you with your greed .I believe it was the late 80’s when i noticed Hooker headers was having their parts made in mexico . Greed is what it’s all about , and if you are greedy and selfish, you deserve nothing . jmo

  3. MICHAEL ALEXANDER says:

    Just about every single replacement part that I have bought for my 1985 Jeep CJ-7 that has been made by Omix-ADA have been absolute garbage anyway. maybe these knock-off companies will make better parts.

    • roflol!! what’s interesting is lot of China companies that OEM for US brands, some of them come up big. if they actually care about R&D and QC. look at all the once-small time phone players. lot of them are seriously good now days… USA have no one to blame for but ourselves with our consumer driven economy.

    • What’s sad is that I work for Federal Mogul piston rings , I’ve been there 19 years and I try daily at work to get improvements made in Q.C. since I work in rough inspection and I also build engines for my race cars and have had bad parts from big name co.s like Manley vales etc. in the past ( Around 1995 or so , we had a 1 pc stainless severe duty valve head fall off in a .500″ lift hyd. cam engine , because the metallurgy test showed the hardness was wrong and should have never been shipped . they paid for NOTHING on the repairs , we the customers ate the whole bill , and it was a high dollar Stage V aluminum hemi headed engine ). The sad part is seeing co-workers over the years who did not do the hardness tests they were required to do and the supervisors knew it . Many of those people have retired but management is way too lazy still on our Q.C. …………… Sorry for the topic change and long rant , I needed to vent this !

  4. I’ve got another problem that needs to be addressed. I’ve had some written correspondence with SEMA about this but no help offered. I have small shop but have built numerous cars and, by built, I mean frame off, complete builds. There is an ever increasing problem with shoddy parts being manufactured by the name brand companies in the aftermarket performance industry. The problem, as I see it, is a result of mergers or, buy outs of these companies. For example, Holley owns numerous brand labels such as, MSD, Hooker, etc. Quality control is a serious problem.

    I try to purchase American Made products, when and where possible and do so knowing the it will cost me more to support these companies. Summit Racing, Jeg’s, O’Reilly Auto Parts and others, should insist on improved quality control among the parts manufacturers. You all owe it to the consumer. I’m very disappointed in the neutral position SEMA reps have taken. All of these companies seek the SEMA endorsement. I, as a consumer, look for that SEMA endorsement when I purchase my parts. If, however, they don’t truly care and the quality of the parts they endorse, then they are just as useless and the parts I’ve been buying.

    I would love a response to this. And not just a brush off response.

    Russell Harris
    Texas

    • I feel you. Quality is not the same as the old days. I too would like to see this addressed.

    • When MSD bought out Mallory they stopped all Mallory product support, so if you bought a $400 Mallory distributor right before the merger and now need caps & rotors you’re left high and dry. “Sorry that’s discontinued, but you can buy a $400 MSD distributor instead!”

      Really soured my opinion of MSD, which was admittedly not that great to begin with (ever have one of their boxes fail and leave you stranded? Most their distributors won’t run without them).

  5. Pingback: Video: Counterfeit Parts Are Real, Looks Can Be Deceiving

  6. The reason quality is not what it used it be is because there is no profit in making parts that last. People aren’t happy about prices now, if different companies started making parts that last longer without raising prices they would go out of business. Some people do care about quality and are willing to pay more for it, more people are less worried about quality and want what is cheapest today and not what is cheaper long term.

Leave a Reply