27 Nov 23

Spotting Counterfeit Auto Parts Before Buying or Reselling

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Last Updated on: 14th December 2023, 05:48 pm

Spotting Counterfeit Auto Parts Before Buying or Reselling

Buying counterfeit auto parts can be super dangerous, and you gotta be real careful these days. There’s a ton of fake stuff out there, and it can totally mess up your car or truck if you end up with the wrong parts. I learned this the hard way a while back when I got some brake pads off the internet that looked legit but ended up being total garbage.

So I wanted to write this article to try to help other people avoid the same mistakes I made. I’m just a normal guy who likes working on cars, not an expert or anything, but I’ve picked up some tips over the years on how to spot counterfeits before money changes hands.

Packaging Differences

One of the easiest ways to tell if auto parts are fake is to look closely at the packaging. Real parts from brands like Bosch, Denso, ACDelco, etc. will have nice printed boxes, labels, and instructions. The fake stuff is usually really cheap looking with bad printing, logos that are just a little off, weird materials, you name it. If it looks shady, it probably is.

I’ve also seen some counterfeits that straight up misspell the brand name or have grammar mistakes. That’s a huge red flag. The real brands don’t make those kinds of mistakes.

Check for Holograms and Seals

Lots of OEM and aftermarket part manufacturers now use holographic seals on their packaging. I’m talking about those cool little hologram stickers that shift around and stuff when you move them. Hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it.

Anyway, counterfeiters have a tough time faking those, so if the seal doesn’t look quite right or is just plain missing, be suspicious. Same goes for any other anti-tamper seals on the box. They’re there for a reason.

Ask Questions!

When buying parts in person or even online, don’t be afraid to ask some probing questions. “Where exactly did this part come from?” “How do you verify authenticity?” Stuff like that. Look for specifics.

If the seller beats around the bush or gives vague answers about “their supplier” or “the factory,” just walk away. Reputable sellers that know their stuff will tell you straight up about the part’s origin, chain of custody, verification process, etc.

Examine the Part Itself

Once you actually have the part in hand, get out your magnifying glass and inspector’s hat. Examine every inch of that thing for any defects or irregularities. Compare it to photos of the real McCoy or to a known genuine part if you can.

Little details like fuzzy logos, poor molding quality, different materials, misaligned parts and holes, you name it – that’s how you can tell if an auto part is legit or not. Subtle differences matter.

Enter the Part Number

Most genuine OEM and aftermarket parts will have some kind of part or product number stamped or printed on them somewhere. Enter that number into a search engine and see what comes up.

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If the part is legit, you should find the matching info on the manufacturer’s website or in their catalog. No results or totally different parts coming up means you’ve probably got a counterfeit.

Test Fit the Part

If you’re able to test fit the part on your car before buying, take the chance to do that. Check if all the holes and brackets line up. See if it connects properly with related components. Listen and feel for anything unusual.

Counterfeit or just poorly made parts often don’t fit quite right on the vehicle. Don’t ignore any red flags during test fitting.

Go With Your Gut

This is kind of a weird one, but over the years I’ve learned to listen to my gut instinct when something seems off about an auto part. You probably have that little voice too. Listen to it!

If your gut says “something’s fishy about this,” it’s better to pass on the part and keep looking. Even if you can’t put your finger on why, your subconscious is often right.

Only Buy from Reputable Sellers

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid counterfeit parts is to only buy from reputable, trustworthy sources. I’m talking well-known online retailers, brick and mortar auto parts stores, dealerships, and mechanics with solid reputations.

Doing your homework goes a long way. Read reviews and ask car friends for referrals. It’s worth taking the time to find a seller you can really trust.

It might cost a bit more, but think of it as cheap insurance to make sure you get authentic, quality parts that won’t mess up your vehicle.

Watch Out on Auction Sites!

I have to call out auction sites like eBay here. In my experience, lots of the auto parts for sale on there are cheap counterfeits coming from sketchy sellers. It’s just so easy for them to fake it.

If you do buy on eBay, really check out the seller’s feedback and info. Make sure they seem legit. But honestly, I just avoid auctions altogether when it comes to car parts.

Trust Your Mechanic

If you don’t do your own car work, develop a good relationship with a local mechanic you can trust. They can be a great resource for sourcing authentic parts and making sure you get what you pay for.

Any good mechanic will have trusted suppliers they use for parts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about where they get their components.

And if you supply your own parts, they can often spot counterfeits and warn you before installing them. Two sets of eyes are better than one!

Look for Recalls

It’s worth doing a quick search online for any recalls related to the part you’re looking at. Counterfeits won’t bother with recalls, but the real brands usually announce them pretty quickly.

So if the part has been recalled due to defects or safety issues, that’s a sign you’re probably dealing with a knock-off. The genuine manufacturer would have pulled their stock already.

Check Certificates

Some parts like lights, brake components, seat belts, etc. are required to be certified by regulatory bodies like the DOT, SAE, ISO, etc. There will literally be a stamped certification number on the part somewhere.

Trace that number back to the relevant organization’s database. Real cert numbers should come back to the actual manufacturer. Anything fishy means trouble.

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Compare Prices

If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeits are often sold at abnormally low prices compared to the real thing.

So if you see big discounts off MSRP or used parts going for peanuts, be very suspicious. It likely means they’re knock-offs.

Do some price comparisons online to get a sense of the normal market rate for what you’re buying.

Watch Out for Newer Cars

Here’s a good rule of thumb – the newer the vehicle, the more likely the parts are counterfeit. Auto parts for brand new models are impossible for scammers to get legitimately.

But they counterfeit them anyway and sell online. So if you see parts for the latest models at unclear sources, run away!

Do Side-by-Side Comparisons

Whenever possible, compare the part you’re looking at to a known genuine part side-by-side. Even small differences in size, shape, logos, mold lines, hardware, etc. can give away a counterfeit.

Since you often can’t do this until after purchasing, buy from sellers with good return policies just in case.

Research the Seller

Speaking of the seller, let’s talk a little more about researching them. In addition to reviews and reputation, also check out how long they’ve been around. Bad sellers tend to pop up and disappear quickly.

And take a look at their inventory – does it seem too good to be true? Do they have hard-to-find or questionable parts? That’s shady.

Consult Online Forums

The online car community is great about calling out counterfeit parts sellers. Check forum posts on sites like Reddit, BobIsTheOilGuy, etc. for seller reviews.

You’ll often find detailed accounts of people receiving fakes from disreputable sellers. Don’t ignore these warnings.

If Unsure, Move On

This is just a general rule for auto parts buying – if you have any uncertainty or bad feeling about a part, just move on. There will always be more parts and sellers to check out.

Don’t take risks just to save a few bucks or because you feel pressured. It’s not worth it!

Inspect Upon Arrival

When you receive a shipment of parts, thoroughly inspect them immediately. Double check for all the warning signs discussed above. This is your last chance to spot any problems!

And if anything seems off, return the parts right away in accordance with the seller’s policies.

Pay With a Credit Card

Always pay for auto parts with a credit card if you can. That way if you do get stuck with counterfeits, you can dispute the charges and get your money back.

Debit, checks, Zelle, Venmo, etc. don’t offer any protection. Credit card is best.

Report Suspicious Sellers

If you determine a seller is peddling counterfeit auto parts, report them! This helps protect other consumers from being ripped off too.

You can report them to the selling platform, regulators, brand owners, online forums, etc. The more reports against a seller the better.

Trust Your Instincts!

Here’s one last tip – listen to your gut feeling about parts and sellers. If something seems sketchy or too good to be true, it probably is. Your instincts are usually right.

When in doubt, just move on. There are plenty of reputable options out there for sourcing authentic auto parts.

Alright, that pretty much covers all my tips for spotting counterfeit parts. This stuff can be confusing but gets easier with experience. Just stay vigilant and you’ll avoid the fakes. Let me know if you have any other questions!