Sam Ortolani is a torque specialist, based at Norbar Torque Tools Inc. over in the USA. Here he discusses the issues surrounding fake, counterfeit and cloned products in the automotive aftercare market.

We have all heard the stories about fake, counterfeit, and cloned products. Every few months another story makes the national news. Whether it is toothpaste that contains anti-freeze, or baby food that leaves dozens dead, or it is children’s toys that contain lead paint, these stories all emphasize one or two common threads. One, counterfeiting and cloning products is a big and fast growing business, and two, sometimes the results can be tragic.

Fake, counterfeit, and cloned products might be produced with the best of intentions, if we are liberal in applying doubt. More likely though, they are to be predatory – to bite into a market that some company spent years in order to become experts. To be sure, there is never a shortage of people who are lured by saving a few pennies in the spirit of being cost-conscious. This is exactly why the cloning business is growing at the rate it has grown. Often, cloned products are produced with none of the testing, history, quality control, and real-life application experience of the original product. Inferior materials, improper coatings and heat treatment, and sometimes blatant disregard for performance criteria can be the main ingredients of that knock-off. There is a reason why company X’s lug nuts are the best on the market – because company X has 50 years of experience and know-how behind their designs and their processes. Sure, they cost a few pennies more, but you know exactly what you are getting every single time you use one. And more importantly, I like knowing that is what you used on MY car that carries MY kids to school every day.

In the Automotive Industry there are plenty of stories about Knock-off products. We all know stories about headlight assemblies that do not meet industry specifications, and fenders that are nowhere near the original manufacturer specs. Sometimes the results are innocuous – like premature rust, or poor cosmetic fit. But all too often the results can be deadly. Certainly we all know the reason why the “Fastener Quality Act” was instituted – to protect the safety of the public. One of the many driving factors behind the Fastener Quality act was an almost epidemic number of wheel-offs caused by poor quality lug nuts, but also bridge bolts and weapons systems were involved.

There are plenty of documented events where the use of cloned or counterfeit parts has resulted in death in the automotive industry. It is not just wheel hardware that is a problem – brakes, inflators, valve stems, and tools are also contributors to the statistics.

Imagine that moment when you need your brakes most, standing on the pedal, and…NOTHING!

Or your under-inflated or over-inflated tyres blowing at freeway speed, because of a cheap valve stem or cloned tyre inflator, or poor quality tyre gage.

Or those just-torqued wheel bolts coming loose, because the knock off torque wrench can’t hold consistent readings, and over-torques or under-torques the lug nuts.

The US Automobile Manufacturers Association estimates that counterfeiting is a 3 billion dollar a year business. Brake pads have been found that were made of compressed wood, grass clippings, and even seaweed. In China, over 90 manufacturers of fake Yamaha motorcycles have been identified. The US Army was delivered fake seat belt parts – that broke when they were accidently dropped! We have even had cases where our products were knocked off, and the gears ground to dust after a handful of uses.

The savings you think you are gaining can be quickly lost by one catastrophic event. It does not take much before that reputation you spent years or even decades building, is ruined because you thought saving a couple of dollars was going to be worth it.

Sam Ortolani, Torque Specialist, Norbar Torque Tools Inc.