Counterfeit and gray market automotive components are a growing concern and an expensive problem. Typically not built to original equipment manufacturer specifications to deliver consistent, reliable and durable performance, the use of poorly constructed counterfeit, fake and knock-off parts can lead to mechanical problems and system breakdowns.

These parts can increase fleet operating costs and shop time, plus negatively impact fleet use and shop productivity. Moreover, those who sell and install poor quality and imitation parts can damage their reputation, or worse, face liability issues should a product failure have catastrophic consequences.

The distinctive trademarks - signs, wording, colors, figures, etc. - that have been developed and registered by companies are brands that represent genuine products.

“‘Counterfeit trademark’ is defined as a mark that is identical or substantially indistinguishable with the registered trademark,” says Lee Kadrich, vice president of government affairs and trade for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). “Counterfeiters steal these trademarks to mark their fake products because they know buyers want the quality products represented by U.S. trademarks.”

AAIA is an association that represents organizations that manufacture, distribute and sell motor vehicle parts, accessories, services, tools, equipment, materials and supplies.

“The terms used to discuss the problem are important, and one can interchange ‘counterfeit’ with words such as ‘fake’ or ‘bogus,’” Kadrich says.

Counterfeiting is a criminal activity that the FBI has labeled the “Crime of the 21st Century.” However, it is extremely difficult to quantify the economic and industry-wide costs due to the illicit nature of counterfeiting and piracy. Because of the significant differences in types of counterfeited and pirated goods and industries involved, no single method can be used to develop estimates.

Fake and bogus parts “pose a serious safety threat to the unsuspecting repair professional who installs them, to the unsuspecting driver who has counterfeit parts on his vehicle and to everyone traveling our nation’s roads and highways,” says Steve Handschuh, president and chief executive officer of the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA). “Counterfeit parts also damage a legitimate company’s good name and reputation, and can lead to product liability claims.”

Technological advances, such as computers, copiers and scanners, have contributed to counterfeiters’ sophistication, particularly in the counterfeiting of labels and packaging. Often, identifying counterfeit, fake and knock-off parts is difficult because they are designed to look like near perfect replicas of the genuine products and are packaged, labeled and distributed as genuine replacement parts.

Although no automotive parts are immune, counterfeited parts tend to be the most frequently replaced parts, such as brake pads, oil filters, spark plugs, etc., and are often safety-related, says Jack Cameron, vice president of programs and member services for the AASA and group executive of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association Brand Protection Council.

Using such counterfeit parts can have serious consequences, Cameron says. The following are a few, as noted by vehicle testing experts:

• Counterfeit oil filters can cause sudden engine failure.

• Counterfeit suspension parts and wheels break when made of substandard material.

• Vehicle hoods without crumple zones penetrate the passenger compartment.

• Counterfeit brake pads made of grass clippings and saw dust have caused fatal accidents.

• Counterfeit windshields without safety shatterproof glass can cause injury or death.

Certain steps can be taken to avoid purchasing counterfeit parts, such as the following:

• Purchase brand name parts made by full-service aftermarket suppliers and from trusted parts resellers.

• Research the parts before purchasing by talking to repair professionals or searching on the Internet.

• Remember the old adage: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always be suspicious of brand name products available from an unfamiliar source at bargain pricing.

A variety of means for reporting counterfeiting are available, including contacting your local FBI office’s duty complaint agent, report suspected counterfeit products for sale on the Internet to the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center, report suspected criminal violations to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, and report suspicions about the importation of counterfeit goods to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“It’s important for everyone to remember that counterfeiting is a serious crime,” says AASA’s Handschuh. “Counterfeit parts pose serious threats to the health and safety of repair professionals, as well as vehicle owners and passengers. A fake suitcase that breaks is an inconvenience. A fake part that fails could take someone’s life. The real key to fighting counterfeit automotive parts is awareness throughout the supply chain, and reporting suspicious products.” BI