Automobiles are ingrained into our lives. Most people across the world use one every day. In 2016 alone, over 70 million cars were built. Already in 2019, global production has reached over 68 million.
Vehicles are so common, but we rarely think about the parts that go into making them. How many of us realize that illicit trade in car parts is a major issue and threatens the safety of the cars some of us will be getting into today? Very few of us.
When vehicles are manufactured with fake or illicit parts, or items are replaced with their counterfeit counterparts, passengers and their safety are put at unnecessary heightened risk. However, the trade in illicit car parts has been going on for years. And a series of raids this past summer across the world has shone a light on it.
Back in August, the Spanish Guardia Civil and French Gendarmerie Nationale dismantled an organized crime group involved in international vehicle theft and trafficking. This raid was carried out with the support of Europol; 40 people were arrested and 118 stolen vehicles recovered. Had they been sold instead, the proceeds would have put over 4.5 million euros into the pockets of this criminal organization.
Across the European continent in Lithuania, 13 were arrested as part of an investigation into an organized crime network specializing in car parts theft. Europol, the German police of Heilbronn, Belgian federal judicial police of Halle-Vilvoorde and Lithuanian police in Panevėžys collaborated to dismantle the network operating throughout Germany and Belgium in six phases. 4 million euros’ worth of goods were recovered from this Lithuanian criminal group, who were held responsible for 279 criminal cases.
In July, thousands of fake motor parts were discovered in Vietnam. The Market Management Department of the northern province of Lang Son, Vietnam, reportedly seized 986 items imitating the two leading motorcycle manufacturers, Honda and Yamaha. The increase in raids across all corners of the globe demonstrates that fake parts pose a growing problem among all automakers and is an issue not merely limited to Europe.
The danger of counterfeit car parts
The automotive industry is highly regulated; manufacturers must adhere to rigorous checks and industry standards across their production and throughout their supply chains. Counterfeit devices are not subject to the thorough safety approvals required, and therefore cannot be approved as fit for use.
This creates a multitude of issues.
First, the products carry no warranty or guarantee and are prone to default. Their origins cannot be traced, nor can their journey down the supply chain. This means their quality cannot be verified. Products can wear down faster, causing breakdowns and accidents.
The use of fake safety parts can be life-threatening. Slow/non-deploying airbags, faulty brake pads or noncompliant windscreens that may shatter or fail to provide protective barrier to passengers can be fatal. Counterfeit technical elements such as engine parts, neither tested nor approved via a manufacturer’s quality check process, could fail at any moment—creating unexpected hazards for the user. Fake electrical components could fail or spark, posing a severe fire risk. Tires could be unreliable and unfit for road use, with compromised performance if not supplied via a genuine trader.
Furthermore, fake components installed in critical parts of a vehicle can cause damage that requires costly repairs and can result in the loss of warranty and insurance coverage.
Automobile and parts manufacturers are working hard to protect their brand and their customers. Porsche, for example, has formed a brand protection team tasked with finding and seizing any goods illegally carrying Porsche branding. Last year the German firm claimed to have confiscated over 200,000 items, worth almost 60 million euros. Of those seized, 33,000 were reported to be spare parts for its cars, the majority of which were found on online platforms including eBay and Amazon. Among the items seized were critical safety components such as airbags and brake discs, a trend echoed around the world as, increasingly, fraudulent mechanical parts that could severely impact vehicle safety, including air bags and wheels, are being confiscated by authorities.
Parts makers, too, are organizing. In 2008, the Manufacturers Against Product Piracy code was introduced as an industry-wide initiative. It is being used by well-known suppliers including Bosch, Mann Filter, TRW and Schaeffler, helping to uniquely identify the products across the various stages of the value chain. This includes verification of originality to prevent fake goods entering the manufacturing ecosystem.
Steps to aid the fight against counterfeiting
Drivers and passengers are often unaware of the dangers, yet industry and government bodies are stepping up to advise and assist. The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office, for example, has developed consumer guidance in partnership with the motor industry and law enforcement for prospective buyers of car parts, a positive step to help citizens avoid fakes. Read here to find out more about how you can stay safe on the road.
Written by STOP: ILLEGAL