How to buy good quality car parts
In 1994, the counterfeit car parts industry was worth £3bn. In 2013, it had ballooned almost nine-fold. With online retailing platforms growing (and blamed by some onlookers for providing an easy means by which scammers can profit), it is very tempting to grab a bargain via a spurious seller’s online shop. The problem, however, is that you may not be 100% certain what you are getting. One of the issues involves substitution, in that a different product is dispatched to that which is advertised and ordered; therefore, be wary for phraseology that includes, “product may vary”, or “image for reference only”. This refers not just to car parts, incidentally.
Car manufacturers have suffered from lost revenue and this has led to several cases being battled-out in the courts. BMW, in particular has been active in pursuing vendors of counterfeit car accessories through the UK legal system, to protect its brand. It is also comforting to see that, in February this year, AP Racing was awarded the highest-ever level of damages (over £570,000) in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, after a patented brake calliper feature was copied by a commercial competitor.
Yet, poor quality car components can not only damage your car but also affect your safety. Gates, for example, has had to invest strongly in anti-piracy measures for its timing belts (premature breakage of which will damage most engines beyond economic repair), after it found that counterfeit alternatives were being offered that were not as durable. GEM has also come across low cost suspension parts, which, although they would pass an MoT Test if fitted, are of a construction where they could either fail prematurely, or cause the vehicle to react in a different way than the manufacturer intended, during, let’s say, an emergency avoidance manoeuvre. The most obvious worrying example is counterfeit airbags, which disintegrate on deployment. Last February, The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) arrested a 34 year-old man in Dorset, accused of supplying fake airbags via eBay, selling them for approximately half the cost of main dealership items.
So, how can you be satisfied that the car parts you buy are good quality? The topic is a minefield but here are our top five tips that should stand you in good stead:
- You can exceed OE – for older cars, particularly, some companies upgrade fast-failing parts to a higher standard.Steve Monckton,of Remy Automotive UK told us that, “We analyse the failure reasons and engineer-out any inherent problem on the OE part to make the replacement a more robust product”. Responding to the mounting problem of certain replacement rubber suspension parts failing prematurely Mapco reported that its High Performance Standard (HPS) brand also exceeds the carmaker’s standards.
- Look for original equipment (OE) components, or parts that meet the OE-specification. Be suspicious of phraseology that some sellers use to confuse the buyer. “Meeting the minimum requirements of….” and “suitable for use in…” are subtle but different to the more formal “Compliant with…”, “fully approved to…” and “meets the requirements of…”. Bear in mind that, while you are obliged to use neither manufacturer-branded spare parts, nor expensive main dealer repair shops, if you cannot prove that OE-specification parts were fitted to your car, you risk voiding its factory warranty. Always keep receipts and tell an independent garage to provide evidence that OE-specification parts were used for all services and repairs.
- Trust the brand. Be sure that you trust the claims made. If you buy engine oil made by Castrol, Morris, or Mobil, for example, it is more likely that the contents of the bottle meet the stated specifications. Can you trust a spurious non-branded bottle of oil, bought for a bargain price online to be as truthful?
- Trust the seller. Can you trust your seller’s reputation enough that you are not being sold sub-standard, or counterfeit items?
- Look for value, not cheap. Seek the best value part, which can be very different from the cheapest component. If you find a part, the cost of which is too good to be true, it probably is.
Finally, be on your guard. Very few replacement car parts are required to comply with any technical standards and, even in cases where standards are mandatory, enforcement remains relatively weak.