The boom in e-commerce and steady economic recovery following the Global Financial Crisis has re-energised the trade in fake car parts around the globe, with Australia squarely in the sights of the counterfeiters in a trade worth billions of dollars a year.
According to a new report by the OECD and the EU's Intellectual Property Office*, imports of counterfeit and pirated goods make up around 2.5 per cent of global imports, with fake car parts from Asia a growing part of that trade.
Investigations over the past two years by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection have resulted in more than 6000 items being seized, with an estimated value in excess of $550,000.
The seized items were branded Ford, Holden and Toyota, among many others.
Australia's peak body representing car importers and distributors, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), is concerned by the escalation in shonky, non-genuine parts coming into the country and is reminding repairers, insurers and motorists to be vigilant.
FCAI chief executive officer Tony Weber said the biggest risk when fitting these parts is in compromising vehicle safety.
"The gamut of fakes includes everything from bogus wheels and body panels to safety-critical components like brake pads and airbags," Mr Weber said.
"The only way to guarantee supply of genuine parts is by sourcing them through the vehicle maker's authorised supply chain and to support those repairers who insist on using the genuine article."
Locally, Ford has seized fake alloy rims to suit high-performance FPV (Ford Performance Vehicles) models, air intake snorkels and grilles for the Ranger light commercial, while Toyota seized numerous counterfeits, including water pumps, wheel bearings, brake pads and the spiral cable that controls multiple steering wheel functions, including airbag deployment.
The fake Holden parts included body panels, alloy rims, grilles, taillights, radiators and various items of merchandise.
In late 2015 a testing program under the FCAI's Genuine Is Best initiative saw a set of fake Mercedes-Benz wheels, on sale in Australia, dangerously disintegrate in a 50km/h pothole test, while the genuine wheels sustained no visible damage.
In the case of the fake Ford wheels, an inferior alloy made for a lighter wheel, but a much more poorly constructed one.
A spokesperson for Toyota Australia said the phoney brake pads and spiral cable were two of the most worrying recent discoveries.
"The fake brake pads were being marketed as genuine by a local third party retailer. When tested, they were found to contain asbestos," he said.
"At first glance the cable looks genuine, but look closely and there are some frightening inadequacies like airbag circuit terminals that should be gold-plated for maximum durability and connectivity, but aren't.
This means there's a high likelihood of insufficient conductivity to support airbag deployment in an accident.
"Most of the counterfeit parts we have identified were supplied in fake Toyota packaging, so consumers shouldn't think that just because they see a Toyota box, bag or label that they're buying a genuine part," he added.
Multiple sets of fake alloy rims, bearing Holden's 'lion and stone' logo, have been found to vary significantly from genuine items and are even sold in fake GM-branded bubble-wrap.
In a clear warning to Australian vehicle owners, Mr Weber says many consumers who are looking for a good deal can't tell the difference between a genuine part and a counterfeit one.
"The major concern is safety, and using counterfeit parts, knowingly or otherwise, means you're taking a huge risk," he said.
"The way to avoid safety concerns posed by fake parts is to ensure you or your repairer sources genuine replacement parts from the vehicle maker's authorised supply chain," he said.
The FCAI's Genuine Is Best initiative focuses on the safety, performance and durability benefits delivered by genuine replacement parts.
Genuine parts are made or selected by the vehicle's maker and rigorously tested by that maker as an integral component of the vehicle to meet high quality, safety and performance standards.
This ensures a vehicle will drive, function and protect in the way it was intended.
If a vehicle needs replacement parts following a collision or during servicing and maintenance, it is essential that genuine parts are fitted.
Genuine parts are new and the only parts approved and warranted by the vehicle's maker.
You can only guarantee supply of genuine parts by sourcing them through the vehicle maker's authorised supply chain.
Use anything else and you may be taking a risk.
Find out more at http://genuineisbest.com.au/.