DETROIT – A blown tire, a bad airbag, a faulty ignition—federal investigators say we are at more risk than we realize because of a flood of fake counterfeit car parts that have come across our borders and into our cars.
"We're constantly getting tips and things like that about people who are buying these parts," said Homeland Security Investigations special agent Lorin Allain. "It's huge."
And dangerous because counterfeit parts are never inspected to ensure they meet safety requirements.
"These rims could potentially fail, said Daryl Pugh, another HSI agent, pointing to counterfeit rims. "You know you have an accident, hit a pothole which could later cause an accident because the rim itself failed."
Don Eaton, the owner of Automotive Supply in Roseville, has been in the parts business for over 50 years. He says he's never seen anything as potentially dangerous as the barrage of fake car park currently flooding the market.
"We have ordered rotors by the pallet that were supposed to come from Canada and they have been Chinese, so we have got hooked before too but we sent them back," Eaton said.
Eaton also said there is a real difference in quality between "real" parts and the counterfeit knock-offs.
"Premature rust, corrosion, they just don't hold up like original equipment," he said. "If you get some counterfeit rims or something like that, the wheels could fall off the vehicle, plain and simple. You've got to watch what you are buying."
David Gucciardi of Warren often works on his family's cars and understands how even the smallest part can affect a vehicle's safety. He doesn't want counterfeit parts in his daughter's car.
"With a 3200-pound machine capable of going 75 m.p.h. , quality of any part no matter how small the part is, a bulb, if my daughter hits a bump and a brand new bulbs goes out , that is dangerous right there," he said. "Same as a wheel bearing or a front suspension part."
The feds have confiscated millions of dollars in counterfeit car parts, but they know that millions more are finding their way into vehicles. In one local bust, they found counterfeit air bags didn't even work when tested. It didn't surprise agents on the front lines.
"Whether it be counterfeit airbags that deploy and emit shrapnel or hazardous chemicals, or don't deploy at all because their faulty, they are dangerous things that you could be putting into your vehicle," said Allain
Here are the basics for avoiding fake parts:
- Do business only with reputable repair shops or the manufacturer's dealership repair network.
- Stay informed about the sources of parts you are purchasing or are installing.
- Beware of "too good to be true" prices.
- Use caution when purchasing auto parts on the Internet that are shipped from other countries.
Many buy counterfeit car parts intentionally to save money, but agents say it's illegal and more importantly dangerous.
"I wouldn't want to be in that vehicle or around that vehicle if the parts fail," said Allain. "It's just really not worth it in order to cut the cost, putting your safety and the safety of others at risk."
Gucciardi, ever the protective father agrees: "It's ok to spend a little more money, the car is a big investment and more importantly the safety of the auto."
Report counterfeit auto parts online to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or call the tip line at 866-347-2423. You can also submit an online complaint on the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center's website.