by Jacques Gordon, managing editor MACS ACtion Magazine
If you’re involved in A/C service, hopefully you already know about counterfeit refrigerants: 30-pound cylinders used in service shops are being filled with a mixture of refrigerants and labeled as pure name-brand automotive refrigerant. They’re sold at a steeply discounted price, and they’re showing up all over the world. Unfortunately the mixture includes non-automotive refrigerants that attack aluminum, a metal that’s in all mobile A/C systems. Even worse, the mixture becomes dangerously flammable and/or explosive when exposed to air.
Bogus refrigerant is only one example of counterfeiting in the automotive aftermarket. Earlier this year the General Motors Global Investigations team, in cooperation with local officials, seized more than 50,000 counterfeit parts in the Middle East, mostly filters and wiper blades in ACDelco boxes. In similar raids last year, they found several distributors who were counterfeiting packaging and labels. According to GM, most counterfeit parts and packages are made in China and exported globally. Recent raids in New York and New Jersey by the FBI turned up counterfeit gaskets, spark plug wire sets and wheel hubs.
The problem is big enough that several car manufacturers are cooperating with each other and with law enforcement and customs agencies to hunt down counterfeit parts and their sources. Recently a man in Virginia was convicted of selling counterfeit GM-branded Tech 2 scan tools and Controller Area Network diagnostic interface (CANdi) modules. In a similar case last fall, a federal grand jury indicted an Indonesian citizen living in Duluth, Ga. for selling counterfeit GM and BMW diagnostic equipment, car keys and key fobs (he allegedly programmed the keys and attached a counterfeit brand emblems). Both of these men were advertising items on eBay that were manufactured in China and drop-shipped directly to the customer, a common scenario in the counterfeit auto parts business.
These ‘busts’ were reported by Operation Engine Newity, a program operated by the U.S. Department of Justice as “an international initiative targeting the production and distribution of counterfeit automotive products that impact the safety of the consumer.” The European Commission has just announced an anti-counterfeiting campaign too. While their program is aimed at stopping counterfeiting of all products, auto parts are a priority. Meanwhile in Japan, at least one auto parts manufacturer launched their own private investigation and seized over 200,000 parts from just one counterfeiter, along with the tooling used to make them.
When production moves to cultures with a different view of patents and ‘intellectual property,’ it’s hard for parts suppliers to protect OEM designs and engineering. Now counterfeiting is costing us all money, and people are getting hurt by inferior products. There might not be an ultimate answer to this problem, but it’s the technicians on the front line who make the decision about whether or not to install a part. As inconvenient as that may be for techs and shop owners, that really is the ultimate responsibility, and the ultimate power.
The Mobile Air Conditioning Society’s blog has been honored as the best business to business blog in the Automotive Aftermarket by the Automotive Communications Awards and the Car Care Council Women’s Board!
When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 34th annual Mobile Air Conditioning S ociety (MACS) Worldwide Training Conference and Trade Show, Power Up! will take place January 16-18 2014 at the Sheraton New Orleans.