Knock-offs in cars: how to spot fake 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. Less than half the cost of the brake disc. But the spare part is counterfeit. 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 bad purchases?

For starters, what constitutes a spare part, who is allowed to manufacture it and put it on the market, and the claims a spare part must meet – all of this is governed by an EU block exemption regulation. Many parts can be legally rebuilt, as long as they are equal in quality to the vehicle manufacturer’s parts.

Common counterfeits

The problem is spare parts that look like the original parts, but are much worse in quality. Frequently counterfeited:

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

The counterfeiters work thereby very exactly: Apart from the spare parts also packing, test marks and safety holograms are usually copied one to one from the original, say Thomas Fischer, executive committee of the association free spare part market (Vrei), a protection of interests of autoparts manufacturers.

Protection against counterfeit parts

Especially with 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 fails to 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 appropriate.” In his opinion, motorists can only protect themselves from counterfeit parts by buying them from reputable sources – such as a well-known specialist 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, he says. The order in the course of repair usually also the spare part.

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

  • Rims
  • parts for brakes and chassis
  • Electronic components
  • ECUs
  • Sensors
  • Lambda sensors
  • Mixture control parts

Indications of imitations

He advises to buy parts from the vehicle manufacturer or the original parts supplier and not from unknown internet stores. He also points out that price isn’t everything. “When a spare part is offered extremely cheap, either the seller does not know what it is worth. Or it is stolen goods. Or fake. Then the alarm bells must go off”, says. Bargains, in any case, there are virtually no more.

Customers can recognize cheap and poorly made imitations by the lack of a manufacturer’s name, trademark and original packaging. Customers can compare the supposed original part with the real original pattern. But with well-made counterfeits, it becomes difficult to detect an imitation.

Safety-relevant components only with ABE

The general rule is that every accessory part must have a valid general operating permit (ABE), type approval or parts certificate. So it is subject to a prescribed test procedure and its manufacture to quality management.

Whether counterfeit spare parts pose a risk depends on the component. “In the worst case, a fake exhaust muffler becomes louder and does not meet the emission standards. A brake disc, on the other hand, can break and lead to an accident”, says Thorsten Rechtien from Tuv Rheinland.

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Rechtien advises motorists to buy spare parts only from reputable and trustworthy dealers. During a general inspection (HU), examiners would usually recognize badly faked parts and refuse an HU sticker or an entry in the vehicle registration certificate.

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