Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2014   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Counterfeit Brake Friction

Industry always working to keep one step ahead of those who copy their products

Counterfeiting is a global business. In a report by the International Trademark Association, ‘Strengthening Anticounterfeiting Laws and Procedures in Canada,’ the association puts the estimated global trade in counterfeit and pirated goods at $600 billion and counterfeiting and piracy in Canada at some $20-$30 billion annually. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission estimated that counterfeit automobile parts cost the U.S. automotive supplier industry US$3 billion annually in the United States.

In February of last year, The New York Times reported that three men were arrested in a scheme to sell counterfeit brake pads and other car parts to repair shops in the city. The seized brake pads were packaged to appear as if they were manufactured by companies as “Ford, General Motors and other leading manufacturers.”

Counterfeit brakes were even cited in the most recent debates on strengthening Canada’s copyright and trade-mark protection laws. Bill-56 was a move by the federal government to amend the Copyright Act and the Trade-marks Act by adding “new civil and criminal remedies and new border measures in both Acts, in order to strengthen the enforcement of copyright and trade-mark rights and to curtail commercial activity involving infringing copies and counterfeit trade-marked goods.” During the debate on the bill, Liberal MP Geoff Regan of Halifax West, NS cited the problem of counterfeit brakes getting into the Canadian market and the impact it has on Canadian vehicle owners:

“For example, if you take your car to a garage for repairs, it is possible that the brakes installed to replace your old ones will, in some cases, be counterfeit brakes . . . Brakes are another very good example because everyone recognizes and understands the importance of having good brakes and the need for them to be manufactured according to an appropriate standard. If someone obtains counterfeit brakes that do not work properly, the danger is obvious and clear. This can happen.”

“If you have a recognized brand in the aftermarket you can be assured that an attempt is being made to counterfeit that product,” says Bill Hanvey, AASA vice-president, programs and members services and staff executive with AASA/MEMA Brake Manufacturers Council. “No one can give a definitive number on the size or percentages of brakes or other products that are being counterfeited.” While Hanvey would not get into specifics as to which of its members are targets of counterfeit brake friction, “what we do see is that brands that are recognized globally appear to be frequently targeted.”

Several major brake friction makers were contacted by SSGM Magazine to talk about counterfeiting.

Many decided not to go on the record because of the sensitivity of the subject and not to tip their hand in regards to the work they are doing in combating counterfeits.

All said they are vigorously fighting counterfeits and there is ongoing investment in protecting their product brands from being copied.

ACDelco, a well-known supplier of aftermarket friction in North America said in an email response to questions sent to its brake team: “We take this issue very seriously and will continue to use strategies and put additional measures in place that deter and thwart counterfeiting. We typically do not share strategies publicly, since it may aid the counterfeiters in countering those strategies.”

Hanvey adds that MEMA works closely with all brake friction makers to develop a range of measures to combat counterfeiting, and has an ongoing working group dedicated to fighting counterfeiting.

“MEMA created the Brand Protection Committee (BPC) to organize industry action against the trafficking of counterfeit products and to increase protection of intellectual property in the automotive industry,” Hanvey adds. “It meets several times a year both in person and through webinar to discuss the latest issues and trends of parts counterfeiters and is a forum for manufacturers to discuss best practices in counterfeit protection.

“These efforts are on top of and in conjunction with our members’ individual efforts evaluating means to improve upon the measures they have in place to recognize counterfeit products.”

Ernie Fields, sales manager with ProMax Autoparts Depot, a supplier of brake friction and rotors for the aftermarket, says the ongoing efforts of friction makers to tackle the problem has reduced the amount of counterfeit product getting into the North American market. There are fewer incidents now of someone trying to fake the product and packaging of major friction makers and sell them openly on the market.

The introduction of Edge Codes has also helped in reducing counterfeiting.

If one takes a close look at brake pad or shoe, there will appear what at first glance looks to be a cryptic set of numbers and letters. This Edge Code is not random. It tells technicians information about the product, including the cold and hot friction levels, for example, and who manufactured the product. That Edge Code is created by engineers, federal entities and industry associations.

Fields says the real danger is that when a fake product does get through the consumer is the one who suffers most as the quality of the product is poor and, in regards to brake friction, that poor quality impacts safety and performance.

“The danger to the vehicle owner is that the integrity of the product purchased is compromised,” Hanvey adds. “With the likelihood of little to no testing and substandard quality assurance, issues relating to fit, function and performance on the vehicle can be expected.”

Because counterfeiting cannot be eliminated entirely, with counterfeiters playing a cat-and-mouse game of trying to always stay one step ahead of the latest means of cracking down on their efforts, how can one protect one’s self from their products?

Remember the old adage “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That is still the best place to start.

Often a good tip-off that the product might be a counterfeit is that the brake friciton or rotor is being offered to you at a much reduced price or coming from a non-traditional parts supplier at a significant discount.

One should also be vigilant of vehicle owners who insist they will bring their own parts because they can get the friction at a cheaper price than what the service writer will pay to source the parts.

Technicians should also pay special attention for any signs of variations in size, shape or texture in the friction that could be an indication that the product they are holding is not the real thing.

“Working with suppliers who are known to have a good reputation in the business is probably the best start in procuring authentic products,” says Hanvey. “Such suppliers may have measures in place to identify suspect products before they reach the marketplace.”

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