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Story by Matt Cramer, Photography as Credited

 

Copycat products have been a fact of life in the performance parts industry for decades. And for a long time, makers of these knockoffs ranged from above-board to sleazy yet legal. There was an ethical line in the sand that even the shady manuf…

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wannacruise
wannacruise New Reader
5/2/19 11:02 a.m.

I'm really glad you wrote this article about counterfeit parts.  It's a topic that needs to be addressed more.  I'm beginning to believe that about 25% of the parts I buy ( i have more than one collector car)  are counterfeit.  I judge that from the number of returns I do or just suffering  with poor fitting or poor performing parts.  I don't know if that is because of poor quality control or counterfeiting but I sure wish it could be improved.  My first choice in parts is from American made.   Then my second option is from well established specialty suppliers but that does not always solve the issue.   Anyway, keep up the good work.   Dave.  

Professor_Brap
Professor_Brap Dork
5/2/19 11:12 a.m.

As someone who is in the aftermarket/performance parts industry is crazy how many counterfeit parts are out there. We get a TON of returns of people returning fake parts. 

Patrick
Patrick MegaDork
5/2/19 11:35 a.m.

I have the regulator on the right on my car, minus the aeromotive name.  I figured it was only a matter of time before they started etching the name on them.  FYI the boost reference port does nothing.  And i pressure tested the eff out of my lines because it was set at 155psi from china factory, and i had to run it almost out of adjustment to get 60psi at the rail.  

Good article.  I would never buy a name stamped piece from china.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/2/19 11:35 a.m.

We've had a couple of parts knocked off but never sold as counterfeits - luckily. This could be because we don't use many Chinese suppliers and because our parts aren't available though major channels like eBay, Amazon or Summit. It's probably only a matter of time, though.

If you ever want to make sure you're getting a real FM part, get it from FM or from a reseller that we suggest. If the price is way too good to be true, it's not.

A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
5/2/19 11:54 a.m.

And then there are “real fakes”.  I learned about that from Roberto Saviano’s work about the mafia controlled mom and pop shops in Italy.  A company with a solid name and reputation will approach a shop to build a number (say 1000) of a particular thing.  The shop’s owner complies but instead builds 1000 extra that they sell on the black market.  Built in the same shop by the same hands that built the “real one”.  In these cases not even an expert can spot the difference.  I’d never thought about that before.

Javelin
Javelin MegaDork
5/2/19 11:59 a.m.

In reply to A 401 CJ :

Hell Bizzarinni made more whole cars after AMC bailed on the AMX/3!

https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2013/08/30/one-of-six-amx3-comes-up-for-sale/

freetors
freetors Reader
5/2/19 12:05 p.m.

This is happening with bicycle parts too. On my current build I have actually knowingly bought knockoff parts from China for it. These are mainly carbon fiber components like handlebars, forks, etc. Some of the parts I've bought have legitimate trademark violations with their branding like copying the names of other companies, or slightly altering brand names. I guess I'm part of the problem now that I'm buying this stuff, but from the consumer perspective, these parts offer an amazing price/performance ratio. The set of carbon handlebars I bought for roughly $30 would be about equivalent to a $200 pair of bars.

stevewaclo
stevewaclo None
5/2/19 12:08 p.m.

Hello all,

 I believe there is a strong parallel between counterfeit parts and the drug trade.

As long as there are buyers willing to purchase such products, there will be shady operators ready and willing to meet the demand.

As consumers we should all pledge to support legitimate businesses and resist the urge to go to the dark side for knock-offs.

Dusterbd13-michael
Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
5/2/19 12:16 p.m.

For the AMC challenge car, I bought a no name fuel pressure regulator. Just like the one in the article. When it was delivered it had Aeromotive stamped on it. It wasn't the greatest as far as adjustability and quality go. I tried not to purchase knock-offs whenever possible and still do to this day.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/2/19 12:41 p.m.
freetors said:

This is happening with bicycle parts too. On my current build I have actually knowingly bought knockoff parts from China for it. These are mainly carbon fiber components like handlebars, forks, etc. Some of the parts I've bought have legitimate trademark violations with their branding like copying the names of other companies, or slightly altering brand names. I guess I'm part of the problem now that I'm buying this stuff, but from the consumer perspective, these parts offer an amazing price/performance ratio. The set of carbon handlebars I bought for roughly $30 would be about equivalent to a $200 pair of bars.

That's a short term strategy. The knockoffs don't have any testing or development behind them. If the companies doing that work can't support themselves, they go away and R&D for your parts dries up. Give the price disparity, I suspect that the knockoffs you bought also have some serious shortcuts in the manufacturing process, such as the substitution of a different type of fiber or fewer layers. Something to think about.

93gsxturbo
93gsxturbo SuperDork
5/2/19 12:49 p.m.

I can tell you the Chinabay "3T" handlebars on my mountain bike were scary.  Swapped them out for a set of genuine Eastons and they are much much better.  I do still run Chinabay carbon bottle cages but thats a really good risk to reward ratio.  Real parts are cheaper than cosmetic surgery.  The face you save may be your own. 

snailmont5oh
snailmont5oh Dork
5/2/19 12:57 p.m.

Sometimes, a knockoff is something that another company copied and manufactured from existing parts or stolen drawings. Other times, as noted above, a knockoff is made by simply over-producing an item that one was contracted to build.  It may have started with organized crime in Italy, but the Far-East manufacturers do this as a normal operating practice.  I know that companies do what they can to maximize profits, but if you send your manufacturing offshore because of the allure of cheap labor, you asked for it.  Especially if you didn't lower your price to reflect the savings, which you didn't do.  Pretty much every product that shifted their manufacturing to China has felt the sting of this, from Vise Grip to Sharpie to Brembo. Is it wrong? Sure.  But, if corporate leadership cared for the long-term health of the economy they operate in more than a short-term blip in profits or stock price, this wouldn't be an issue, because American manufacturing would still be done in America.  Not to be all "soapbox" about this, but if the farmers in this country managed their land like the investment firms and others in control of the money in this country run the economy, they would be without a livelihood in six years, and the country would starve.

[/rant]

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
5/2/19 3:55 p.m.
snailmont5oh said:

Sometimes, a knockoff is something that another company copied and manufactured from existing parts or stolen drawings. Other times, as noted above, a knockoff is made by simply over-producing an item that one was contracted to build.  It may have started with organized crime in Italy, but the Far-East manufacturers do this as a normal operating practice.  I know that companies do what they can to maximize profits, but if you send your manufacturing offshore because of the allure of cheap labor, you asked for it.  Especially if you didn't lower your price to reflect the savings, which you didn't do.  Pretty much every product that shifted their manufacturing to China has felt the sting of this, from Vise Grip to Sharpie to Brembo. Is it wrong? Sure.  But, if corporate leadership cared for the long-term health of the economy they operate in more than a short-term blip in profits or stock price, this wouldn't be an issue, because American manufacturing would still be done in America.  Not to be all "soapbox" about this, but if the farmers in this country managed their land like the investment firms and others in control of the money in this country run the economy, they would be without a livelihood in six years, and the country would starve.

[/rant]

This is correct, and it's not limited to ebay-type stuff. For instance, MAN B&W produces big diesel engines for supertankers and other big ships. Because China is a major producer of big ships that use these engines, MAN licenses companies in China to build and/or assemble their engines. These companies build X number of the licensed MAN engines for the market that buys them, but then they (or a related company) also build an exact copy (probably using all the same specs and materials) of that engine and sells it as a "Changxi" diesel or something, at a lower price. The lower price isn't because the engine is necessarily any different, but only because they don't have to pay the MAN licensing fees. Most of these "Changxi" engines go to domestic shippers buying cheaper ships overall who don't want to pay for MAN engines. So as noted above, a lot of this "knockoff" stuff is actually made in the same factory as the "real" stuff to the same specs (though a lot of it isn't).  And obviously the Germans know this is happening, yet MAN still continues to sign new licensing contracts - because the money they make using cheap Chinese labor still offsets any competition losses they might experience from the Chinese-badged copied diesels. Most of this stuff is known, and companies just consider it the "cost of doing business" in any cheap labor market with lax patent/trademark enforcement. 

Same goes for all kinds of other products. The radiator in my e30 rally car is from China and is an exact copy of a Mishimoto radiator (minus the Mishimoto stamp) made in the "Koyostar" factory (which actually makes a lot of OEM components for major car companies as well). I've matched them up side by side and seen cutaways and the Koyostar is every bit as good as the Mishimoto from what I can tell (and has worked flawlessly for 9 years in a stage rally car). The only difference I could find was the Koyostar rad uses a cheap-feeling drain plug vs. the nicer one on the Mishimoto. I read some business report years ago that stated the factory actually made REAL Mishimotos as well (which Mishimoto then sold as "made in Japan"). IDK the veracity of that, but companies definitely do that. Oh, and the Koyostar was 1/3rd the price of the Mishimoto. 

Then again, just to play devil's advocate - every country does this. If you think that nothing made in the USA or Germany or Japan is a copy of something originally made someplace else, you're fooling yourself. And there are plenty of reputable aftermarket car companies out there that sell parts that are almost exact copies of parts their competitors make, just with different paint colors or brand etching. I remember about 15 years ago some Nissan afficianados figured out at least 2-3 parts STILLEN (Steve Millen's company) was selling for Nissans that were definitely copies of products by smaller companies who had them on the market previously. Those smaller companies may not have had patents on them, so it was probably technically legal, but still just as much of a "knockoff." I'll have to find the old forum discussions that talked about it. The guys who did the engineering comparisons used some nifty methods to make their determinations. 

_
_ Reader
5/2/19 4:46 p.m.

You mean my $$150 with free shipping t3 turbo isn’t a legit Freddy turbo?

ShawnG
ShawnG PowerDork
5/2/19 5:42 p.m.

In reply to irish44j :

Honda and Lifan did exactly the same thing but Honda acted all surprised when the knockoff engines started hitting the market.

_
_ Reader
5/2/19 5:46 p.m.

In reply to ShawnG :

Same with the HF predator 212cc. It’s so identical, just made out of cheaper plastic. 

freetors
freetors Reader
5/2/19 5:51 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

You are correct and that's a risk I'm willing to take. I will say that the finish question quality isn't up to par with what I'd expect from a name brand but it still looks pretty good from a few feet away. I do think it's a viable short term strategy since I'll be able to get on the road faster at half the price. I can always upgrade in the future. And I've still bought name brand stuff for all the moving components, including my Chris King headset because what custom bike is complete without one?

AnthonyGS
AnthonyGS HalfDork
5/2/19 6:02 p.m.

I can shed some light on Chinese engineering practices....

I used to work in automotive engineering (energy industry now) and worked in the cost savings department.  My boss loved to send parts to China to be built, because he could book a huge "savings."  He and accounting were best buds. 

So we pick a part and send it to China complete with the engineering drawings.  It's a pretty complicated machined casting and they cost a lot.  Chinese company makes ridiculously low bid.  They then send a sample.  Oh what a sample.  The drawing has the part size, dimesions, materials bore sizes, etc.  The drawing also specified, part no, MFG NUMBER (ID) and a DATE code.  These are machined or stamped in a certain spot with specific font and dimensions.  So the sample part arrives from China.  Guess who's MFG NUMBER and DATE code are on the part?  That's right it's an exact copy of the US made part complete with the now wrong MFG NUMBER (ID) and DATE.  It's also made of inferior material and the dimensional tolerances are quite a bit worse.  Guess who gets on the phone pronto to tell the Chinese company they got the job.....

After redesigning things that never should've been approved by management and seeing what is happening to engineering in the business, it wasn't for me.  It was also too slow paced for me.

Be careful who you buy from and what you buy. 

 

 

_
_ Reader
5/2/19 6:58 p.m.

I think the Bosch 044 fuel pumps are the biggest con. You can actually make power using a China reproduction. Pay half the price. And still get tech support from Bosch for it! 

RevRico
RevRico PowerDork
5/2/19 7:10 p.m.

I don't really understand the big deal unless EVERY single part I've ever gotten has been a knockoff. Seriously, no matter the vehicles, all replacements parts I get from FLAPS, ebay, rock auto, even the dealer, wherever seem like E36 M3ty imitations of the part I'm replacing. 

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia HalfDork
5/2/19 7:36 p.m.

China is so big that 5 companies can be making a knockoff of the same part , 

And  some will be using a knockoff as the start point to make tooling , 

So now you are at 3rd or,4th generation.

But this has been going on for decades ,  we were making some parts in the late 80s and  they were quickly copied by our rival.

I just worry about parts that can kill you , ball joints , suspension parts ,  etc  and then they copy the box too !

TopNoodles
TopNoodles New Reader
5/2/19 7:51 p.m.
RevRico said:

I don't really understand the big deal unless EVERY single part I've ever gotten has been a knockoff. Seriously, no matter the vehicles, all replacements parts I get from FLAPS, ebay, rock auto, even the dealer, wherever seem like E36 M3ty imitations of the part I'm replacing. 

I've seen the same parts in a warehouse get boxed 3 or 4 times under different brand names. I can only imagine the same is happening behind the scenes with a lot of other products. When I got a new windshield on the Miata, I called every glass shop I could find and nobody had an OEM part. Best lead was triple the cost with no real confirmation of brand. The "We do it right and only use OEM parts" shop swore up and down that their Chinese glass was the same quality as OEM, but it still had a non-OEM tint stripe that I didn't want. I finally caved and just went with one of the low bidders, and they ended up giving me the same brand of glass that the "OEM" shop offered, for about half the cost.

jmc14
jmc14 Reader
5/2/19 9:32 p.m.

I have been dealing with counterfeits of products that I invent and market for 25 years.  I just found out 2 days ago that exact copies of my children's coin banks (Big Belly Banks)  from China and Russia are being sold in the US.  I've had counterfeits that use my picture, my packaging.  I wouldn't be able to tell them from the ones we manufacture in the USA.

I'm a very small business.  I spend the money to develop something that is unique.  I protect them with copyrights and patents.  All of this costs me a significant amount of money.  Then I spend a TON of money enforcing my intellectual property.  I always win but, the offending company simply closes up and opens up under a new name. 

I've sold at major trade shows.  At times I have found a company from China selling my full line of products at the same show. Their prices are often less than what I can buy the raw materials for. 

Counterfeit products harm all types of businesses.  My daughter is a successful author.  She has had her books counterfeited by the Chinese. 

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt PowerDork
5/3/19 7:40 a.m.
A 401 CJ said:

And then there are “real fakes”.  I learned about that from Roberto Saviano’s work about the mafia controlled mom and pop shops in Italy.  A company with a solid name and reputation will approach a shop to build a number (say 1000) of a particular thing.  The shop’s owner complies but instead builds 1000 extra that they sell on the black market.  Built in the same shop by the same hands that built the “real one”.  In these cases not even an expert can spot the difference.  I’d never thought about that before.

Yes - "back-doored" parts are a very real category of fakes, and it's definitely not just the Mafia into it. It's a matter of finding a trustworthy supply chain. They also have a more legitimate cousin that was not discussed in the article, the white-label product. This is when Company A is already building a particular product, and Company B contracts with them to build a copy of this product with Company B's branding, but doesn't have an exclusive deal. Then Companies C and D make similar contracts with Company A, and the result is that there's now four identical products on the market with different badges - all made by Company A. Sometimes Company A's name is known to the general public, sometimes it isn't. Accufab throttle bodies are one such example; you'll see them under a lot of different names.

A few times it can turn into a real soap opera, where Companies E and F think Company B is the original manufacturer and buys further white-label products from B instead of A, Companies X and Y start building lookalike products and selling them through Company Z, etc. That's what's happened with the "Mercury Marine" coils.

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