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Busted: dodgy brake parts seized

DODGY brakes bound for cars sold in Australia have been intercepted by overseas authorities.

Counterfeit brake pads — which contain asbestos or were prone to excessive wear and poor braking performance — were being shipped from Germany and the Middle East.

The seized bogus parts — 1.6 million in Germany and 10,500 in the Middle East — were in what appeared to be genuine packaging, to trick unwary buyers or allow unscrupulous mechanics to plead ignorance.

They are the second and third major seizures of counterfeit car parts in the past two years that have been headed for Australia.

Counterfeit goods investigator Craig Douglas, director of Nationwide Research Group — which also chases down fake handbags, watches and designer fashion labels sold locally — estimates about 15 per cent of car parts imported for older vehicles are fakes being passed off as genuine.

“In our experience, cars that are 5 to 10 years old are most vulnerable to being fitted with counterfeit parts,” said Mr Douglas. “About 30 per cent of parts fitted to cars in that age range are non-genuine, and about half of those are counterfeits.”

Mr Douglas said older cars are targeted because “most are out of warranty and more people start to service their vehicles outside the dealer network, and go to independent repairers where there’s more widespread use of non-genuine or counterfeit parts.”

In most cases the counterfeit packaging is so good even the experts struggle to pick the difference.

“The problem with counterfeits is that a local mechanic can look at the genuine packaging and plead ignorance, or turn a blind eye to the fact he’s just bought a box of dodgy parts out of the back of someone’s car for a fraction of the true cost,” said Mr Douglas.

“There’s plausible deniability, so they take a punt trying to make a quick buck, but in some cases they’re putting lives at risk.”

Over the past three years counterfeit car parts seized in Australia have included important safety items such airbag coils, brake pads, and bonnets that don’t properly latch.

“A look-a-like handbag isn’t going to kill someone, but some of these counterfeit car parts can affect the safety of a vehicle,” said Mr Douglas.

The car industry could stop the import of counterfeit parts — and “parallel” parts that are genuine, but sourced from overseas — by bringing down the price of original parts locally.

“Australia is a popular destination for bogus car parts because, as a developed country, most motorists here get their cars serviced, so there is a ready market for parts and plenty of people trying to make money out of selling them,” said Mr Douglas.

“Some car manufacturers, because they don’t have a global parts pricing policy, create the opportunity for parallel and counterfeit parts to enter our market,” said Mr Douglas.

Representatives for several major car dealerships, who spoke to News Corp Australia on condition of anonymity, said their contracts with manufacturers don’t allow them to buy genuine parts from outside sources, even when the same part is less than half the price.

“I get people offering me privately imported genuine parts at a fraction of the cost of the genuine item (bought through the manufacturer),” said a major metropolitan dealer principal representing one of Australia’s Top 10 brands.

“In some of those cases they might be counterfeit parts, but I know in a number of instances they were genuine parts that were sold overseas as a job lot to a local importer,” the veteran dealer said.

“If the car company can afford to sell genuine parts so cheaply in one part of the world, why can’t they sell it to us here for the same price? The car industry could make this problem go away tomorrow by charging dealers and customers fairer prices for genuine parts.”

The latest seizures involved bogus brake pads for Toyota, BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars but Mr Douglas says all popular brands are affected: “They just haven’t been caught yet”.

When asked how to avoid counterfeit parts, Mr Douglas said it comes down to “price, appearance and location”.

“How much did the part the cost, what did it look like, and where did it come from?” he said. “If you bought it online and it was significantly cheaper than the genuine part, it’s most likely a fake. When it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

Australian Border Force says it has intercepted 3500 counterfeit car parts being imported into Australia over the past two years, but experts believe the number of fake parts slipping through the net is significantly higher.

“Counterfeit parts are becoming a major problem. We are now beginning to advise independent mechanics to be extremely careful when accepting parts provided by customers,” Brenton Daniel, a divisional manager of the NSW Motor Traders Association, with more than 30 years experience in the automotive industry, told News Corp Australia in November 2017.

“Many customers buy parts online thinking they’re getting a good deal but are unwittingly buying counterfeit parts. Motorists are clearly unaware of the risks,” said Mr Daniel. “If someone is offering genuine parts at or below half price, alarm bells should be ringing.”

A statement from the ABF to News Corp Australia said: “Many counterfeit items are substandard in quality and have the potential to cause physical harm. Consumers buying counterfeit items are supporting an illegal trade that could result in injury. The sale of counterfeit goods is also often linked to serious criminal activity.”

Last November importers of counterfeit oil filters were busted selling bogus parts for popular Toyota, Lexus, Kia and Hyundai cars.

Experts warned that saving $20 on a dodgy oil filter could lead to an engine repair bill of between $5000 and $10,000.

In November 2015, authorities in Australia issued a recall for counterfeit Toyota brake pads from China that contained asbestos. It was the first time a recall had been issued in Australia for a counterfeit automotive part.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling

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