19 April 2017, 11:34AM
Counterfeiting is a multi-billion dollar global business believed to take up around 8% of the world’s trade, according to Nationwide Research Group director Craig Douglas.

The brand protection strategist has spent 25 years researching and investigating imitation goods coming into Australia – in particular, spare parts for the automotive industry.

The risk to motorists, he says, can be life or death.

He has seen brake pads made from asbestos and wood fibre, fake air bags, dodgy wheel bearings and bonnets that look identical but are 20% lighter – and therefore 20% weaker – than the real deal.

Just last month (Feb, 2017), Holden issued warnings about counterfeit Commodore bonnets that were at risk of flying up and obscuring the driver’s view or smashing the windscreen while travelling at speed.

There were also concerns that the weight of the replacement bonnets were too heavy for the struts to support them putting the driver or mechanic at risk, and they didn’t have the same safety standards in a crash.

In the irrigation sector the personal risks may not be as great, but the risk to the longevity of your investment can be.

Douglas says the flow-on effects of using a similar product that has not had the same rigorous design process, testing or manufacturing standards can not be under-estimated.

He has seen fuel and oil filters that are genuine on the outside but the interior has only half the amount of filtering paper and no bypass valve to ensure the engine continues to receive oil if the filter becomes blocked. 

It might be one thing to have an ineffective filter, says Douglas, but an engine starved of oil can lead to much more significant and costly problems that don’t warrant the amount you have saved buying a cheap imitation.

“It is like buying a Rolex watch with a Mickey Mouse interior,” says Douglas.

“You get what you pay for with parts. They look the same, but they are not.

“The assumption you are getting the same quality is wrong, and it happens a lot.”

Peter Brewer from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says their campaign for the use of genuine parts is in the interests of protecting the safety of the consumer.

“Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the research, development, pre-release testing and in-service testing of its cars and components,” he says.

“This is done to a very high standard because the OEM’s reputation, not to mention the physical safety of consumers, rests on the integrity of that process and the products that result.”

Brewer says all industries are rife with fake, non-genuine and substitute parts and the size of the trade globally runs into hundreds of billions of dollars.

“From the irrigation industry’s perspective there is not the overwhelming safety imperative that drives the car industry but the general principle remains the same for the consumer,” says Brewer.

“If you want the product you purchased to perform as intended, then the manufacturer who designs, tests and manufactures the product – and puts the weight of its brand and reputation behind it – is the best place to source genuine parts and service you desire.”

He says the authorised supply network will always provide the genuine item because they have a huge stake in protecting the integrity of the product and the brand, and properly supporting it via warranty.

Douglas says buyers need to beware by looking out for any of the three telltale signs.

1) Price
This always tells a story. If you think it is too cheap to be real, it probably isn’t.

2) Location – where was it bought?
Did you buy it online, overseas, at a market? These are reasonably good indicators it hasn’t come from the original source.

3) Appearance
Look at the packaging. Would the manufacturer have done that with a genuine product? Are there spelling mistakes on the packet? Does it smell or feel different?

Douglas says although the Australian government allows for the importing of parallel products - that is, comparison products designed to provide a cheaper option of a genuine design – people should still be cautious.

He has seen imported tyres that were reasonable in quality, but were never tested or designed to meet the Australian conditions where there is a lot of off-road travel, high speed limits and hot surface temperatures.

“We need to be less cost conscious,” he says.

“No one will die from a fake t-shirt or Luis Vuitton handbag but mechanical parts are a different story that can have serious consequences.

“An authorised dealer won’t source parts from overseas because they are protecting their market, and their reputation.”

TEAM Irrigation is the NSW Master Dealer for Valley Centre Pivots and Linear Irrigators