It's a problem that's taking on greater signifcance, not only among light- and medium-duty fleets, but in our country as a whole: poorly manufactured and outright counterfeit products that put all of our lives at risk.
You're no doubt well aware of the Chinese-made goods causing nothing but trouble of late: toothpaste contaminated with antifreeze, pet food containing lethal amounts of fertilizer, mercury-laden shellfish, and toys covered in lead paint. Then there are the infamous car and light truck tires imported by New Jersey-based Foreign Tire Sales (FTS) that lack critical ‘gum strips’ to help the tread adhere to the casing.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is trying to get FTS to recall all 450,000 of those defective tires. The company is dragging its feet, however, claiming that such a move would force it into bankruptcy. Instead, FTS is suing its Chinese supplier, Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber, to pay for the recall.
While you might think your fleet is safe from this issue, think again. Brake maker Bendix is but one supplier fighting hard to wake up the trucking community to the growing number of counterfeit parts infiltrating the industry.
These parts look like the real thing on the outside, but are shoddy junk on the inside. The fear, of course, is that you end up putting parts like this on your trucks, only to have them fail at a critical moment, such as when your driver hits the brakes to prevent a crash.
“That's the biggest concern when it comes to counterfeit parts: safety,” Andy Cifranic, brand manager for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, told me in an e-mail. “Replacement truck parts, particularly brake parts, are designed to keep that vehicle operating safely … and we have seen counterfeit parts throughout our product offering, including in air dryers and in various valves.”
Cifranic has been traveling the country trying to open the eyes of both the trucking industry and the general public to the threat posed by fake parts. “The nature of our business involves efficiently stopping heavy vehicles, so any compromise to the integrity of vehicle braking systems due to poorly manufactured knock-off components can have serious consequences on our brand, our customers and highway safety in general,” he explained to me.
OK, then, more and more counterfeit parts are out there. How should a fleet manager avoid them? Cifranic offers the following tips. First, buy your parts from a reliable source. Second, know what you are buying. Look at the product and the packaging. Do they carry the brand name? Is it placed in its usual location?
“If not, you may have a problem,” he said. “For example, Bendix stamps the ‘Bendix’ brand onto all of our products and clearly prints the Bendix name on our packaging. If you don't see that information, you most likely don't have a genuine Bendix brand product.”
Another clue that something may be counterfeit is the price. If a deal seems too good to be true, there's a good chance it is.
Joe McAleese, president & CEO of Bendix, added that watching out for fake parts must be an ongoing effort for fleets, as well as manufacturers. “We haven't yet faced an accident caused by a counterfeit part, but that's our fear,” he said.
“Visual appearance [of some counterfeits] is so similar to our goods even our engineers can't tell them apart until we break them down and test them. That's when you see significant differences, especially in terms of poor performance.”