WASHINGTON — The use of illegal counterfeit automotive parts is increasing in the United States, creating public safety concerns, according to experts at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC), which is led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
These counterfeit parts usually bear the trademark of a legitimate and trusted brand, but they were produced by another party and are not made to the specifications of the original equipment manufacturer. They're often produced illegally and sold at a profit to fund other criminal activities.
"Law enforcement has identified a trend of counterfeited parts that is growing at an alarming rate," said Bruce Foucart, acting director of the NIPRCC. "At best these parts will not perform as well as authentic parts. At worst, they can fail catastrophically with potentially fatal consequences."
Some of the most dangerous counterfeit products involve the explosive elements of air bags that can literally explode in the victim's face during an accident.
Some other counterfeit parts seized by law enforcement include: seat belts, oil and air filters, brake pads, brake rotors, control arms, windshields, bearings, steering linkages, ignition coils, microchips, spark plugs, wheels, solenoids, clutch housing, crankshafts, diagnostic equipment, suspension parts and oil pumps.
It's imperative that the public, as well as the industry, protect themselves from the possible safety hazards of these parts. The IPR center suggests the following tips:
- Do business only with reputable repair shops or the manufacturer's dealership repair network.
- Stay informed about the sources of parts you are purchasing or are installing – do basic research.
- Beware of "too good to be true" prices that are well below those of competitors.
- Use caution when purchasing auto parts on the Internet that are shipped from other countries or are sold at very low prices.
If you suspect you have inadvertently purchased counterfeit parts, consult an original equipment manufacturer representative or a reputable mechanic for identification and replacement.
Dealing in counterfeit parts is a crime. If think you may be a victim, report it online to ICE via the HSI Tip Line, or call the Tip Line toll-free at (866) 347-2423. You can also submit an online complaint to the IPR center at www.iprcenter.gov.