UAE car industry looks to tackle 'deadly' fake parts market

Counterfeit airbags have the potential to kill while replica brake pads increase stopping distance

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Fake vehicle parts are risking lives on UAE roads with more than Dh5 million worth of counterfeit components seized this year alone.

Oil filters are the most common counterfeit part - some on sale for Dh3, rather than Dh30 for a genuine product, are filled with newspaper and could cause engine fires.

Replica brake pads that increase the braking distance on cars were also common.

An Al Futtaim Automotive event on Tuesday highlighted the dangers surrounding counterfeit vehicle parts. Airbags are a particular area of concern as private garages look to increase profit margins by purchasing cheaper products.

Experts said that as well as counterfeit airbags being unfit for purpose, many were housed in the steering wheel with metal brackets that splinter when activated. When released, the brackets would result in shrapnel travelling at high speed into the driver's face.

“It is a huge responsibility for automotive companies and bigger brands, including us, to provide safety to the customers,” said Jawahar Ganesh, managing director of global aftersales at Al Futtaim Automotive.

“Counterfeit parts at best can increase wear and tear on vehicles, reducing their reliability and their long-term value for customers.

“At worst these parts can result in dangerous failures of vital components of the car, including the engine.

“These fake components pose a great threat to society.”

A crackdown on garages and suppliers of fake goods has seen a significant number of dangerous components taken off the market.

They include 127,306 oil filters, 8,427 bottles of automatic transmission fluid, 2,003 brake pads, 750 spark plugs and 660 bottles of motor oil.

In the last five years, Al Futtaim has conducted 102 raids alongside government authorities, to remove counterfeit products worth about Dh52 million.

Training programmes

Al Futtaim has conducted training workshops for business owners, police, customs authorities and government departments to help spot signs of counterfeit parts.

The company has established a dedicated training academy, with 224 people taking part in 36 programmes to date.

Government officials have taken part in sessions across all seven emirates.

“One of the core defences against fake parts is knowledge,” said Mr Ganesh.

“It's important people are aware of how counterfeit parts are used, so they can effectively beat any wrong practices.

“It's even difficult for us sometimes to identify between a genuine and a fake part, even the packaging is quite well done.”

Counterfeit replacement vehicle parts are not made to the specifications of original manufacturers, so are not subject to rigorous safety standards or control tests.

An increase in counterfeit parts sold online is contributing to the problem, with items sold through platforms with few seller verification checks.

In the US, Customs and Border Protection statistics showed counterfeit safety components like brake pads, airbags, wheels, and suspension parts were becoming increasingly common.

The online sales of auto parts represented a market worth $12 billion in 2019, with the majority of fake parts imported to the UAE from overseas.

China raids

In May 2019 a joint operation between the US, Japan and China targeted six cities across five Chinese provinces which led to the seizure of 163,476 counterfeit airbag components, and the arrest of 14 people.

Kamran Sarwar, brands protection manager at Al Futtaim Automotive, said the difference between fake and real components is becoming harder to spot.

“It's getting more difficult – you often wouldn't be able to tell by just looking at it,” he said.

“In some cases, they use newspaper in oil filters rather than real filter paper.

“It will just allow oil to pass through air, without filtration.

“Hot oil running in the engine can go on to the manifold and potentially cause a fire.”

Mercedes-Benz announced a haul of 1.86 million counterfeit products seized from 650 customs raids in 2021, up 6 per cent from 2020.

“A fake airbag will not function properly or if it is going to blow out, it may break into pieces and the flying metal can kill you,” said Mr Sarwar.

“The job of the airbag is to inflate within fractions of a second like a balloon.

“It is only in that particular moment when you realise it may blast into your face.

“It is a dangerous killing device right in front of you.”

Updated: November 15, 2023, 8:42 AM