A crackdown on counterfeit parts has led to an unprecedented recall of bogus brake pads that contain asbestos.
The brake pads – which are supplied in what appears to be genuine Toyota packaging and are designed to fit Toyota HiLux utes and Hiace vans – were bought online by an independent workshop.
It is the first time a recall has been issued for a counterfeit car part.
The move by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) follows a spate of issues with counterfeit and non-genuine parts that don’t meet basic quality standards.
In the past few months Toyota has taken action against suppliers of fake airbags, while an independent test of aftermarket wheels has revealed several safety concerns.
Asbestos in brake pads
The ACC has ordered Western Sydney supplier Westend Spares to contact all customers who bought the counterfeit parts and refund the cost to them.
The owner of Westend Spares, Andrew Gaal, said he was shocked to learn the brake pads he bought online from China were found to be counterfeit and contain asbestos.
Mr Gaal, who told News Corp Australia his father died from asbestos poisoning in 2008, said he took immediate action once he was notified about the dangerous parts.
“This subject is close to my heart because my father passed away from asbestosis, so I got in contact with the people we sold them to straight away, (we’re) giving them a full refund and getting the pads back so they can be destroyed,” said Mr Gaal.
The independent mechanic said he sold the parts via the online auction site eBay after he bought them from a supplier in China.
“It’s made me more alert. It’s never going to happen again, that’s for sure,” says Mr Gaal.
Mr Gaal says while he only sold 10 sets of counterfeit brake pads (from a batch of 40 sets) he believes a lot of other independent workshops are likely to have been caught out by the scam.
“A lot of smaller workshops buy stuff online like me … there is a strong possibility there are more (counterfeit brake pads with asbestos) out there,” he said.
Asbestos brake pads were banned from Australia in 2004 after the material was linked to lung cancer.
Toyota Australia Corporate Manager, Wayne Gabriel, says the company was shocked to discover the bogus parts.
“Not only have Toyota customers unwittingly bought counterfeit brake pads, but their safety has been put at serious risk,” he says.
“We are pleased with the supplier’s swift action and we will continue our ongoing work to stamp out counterfeit parts that put customers’ safety at risk.”
Toyota believes the same supplier is selling other counterfeit parts including spiral cables, water pumps and wheel bearings.
Greg Patton, Chief Executive of the Motor Traders Association, said the fake parts were a health risk.
“It’s truly deadly stuff. The disregard these people have for public health is shocking.”
The counterfeit brake pads are sold in imitation Toyota packaging for about a quarter of the price of the genuine parts.
In addition to public safety, Toyota is concerned about the health of more than 5,000 mechanics at its Dealerships across Australia – and more than 100,000 mechanics at independent workshops – who may come across a car fitted with counterfeit brake pads.
Mr Patton, whose association represents independent automotive mechanics and repairers, said it was “bitterly disappointing that private importers of these goods would be prepared to put people’s lives at risk”.
The discovery follows Toyota’s Federal Court case two months ago against importers of counterfeit airbag parts, which were likely to fail in a crash. According to an urgent Dealer bulletin obtained by News Corp Australia, Toyota has “serious concerns about the safety of these parts” after internal testing in Japan found there were four ways they could fail to deploy an airbag in a crash.
A Dealer bulletin issued at the time says there is a “high likelihood of insufficient conductivity to support airbag deployment electrical current” and “significant risk of airbag non deployment in an accident”.
The technical bulletin says the counterfeit part does not have gold plated connectors, the crimping of the cable is not strong enough and it does not use copper wire as per the genuine article. The plastic locking tabs are also ‘poorly formed’ or misaligned.
The genuine part costs about $300 wholesale, while the fake part is estimated to cost as little as $50.
Experts say more needs to be done to stop dangerous car parts coming into the country.
“Clearly whatever measures we have in place are not good enough, we’ve left the country wide open to this sort of dodgy behaviour,” said Peter Khoury, spokesman for the National Roads and Motorists Association.
“Now more than ever we need to make sure we have the necessary laws and measures in place to ensure that what comes to this country is safe and suitable for our roads.”
One Dealer speaking on condition of anonymity said: “The problem is, we truly have no way of knowing how many of these fake parts are out there – but we suspect there are thousands, because they are quite a commonly used part.”
Safety experts believe there are also ‘tens of thousands’ of counterfeit car wheels on Australian roads that can buckle or break if they hit a small pothole at suburban speeds.
But there is no way of tracking them down because most were imported from China by independent distributors, some of whom pose as private sellers on online auction websites.
More than 500,000 wheels are imported from China each year, but none are tested to see if they meet Australian Design Rules, and the regulations are not enforced.
Recent testing carried out by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), as part of its ‘Genuine Is Best’ initiative, compared the performance of genuine Mercedes-AMG alloy wheels, against counterfeit copies sold online by an Australian supplier.
Conducted inside Holden’s top secret Land Lang proving ground, the testing found the imitation wheels cracked, with a chunk of the rim breaking away, after hitting a pothole at just 50kmh. The genuine wheels ran through the same test without incident.
At the time of the testing, FCAI chief executive and Genuine Is Best spokesperson Tony Weber said, “The easiest way to tell if a part is genuine is to purchase it through the vehicle manufacturer’s authorised supply chain.”
But not all counterfeit wheels buckle or have a chunk taken out of them.
Not all counterfeit wheels buckle or have a chunk taken out of them. Some develop subtle cracks near the centre of the wheel that initially can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Experts say most cheap or counterfeit wheels from China are made from a blend of scrap alloy and raw material – but alloy wheels should be made solely from raw material to guarantee their strength.
The black market in counterfeit wheels has spiked in recent years because genuine parts are so expensive and most of the fakes can be bought for just $250 each, or $1,000 for a set of four.
A genuine replacement alloy wheel on a new Mercedes can cost up to $2,500 each – or $10,000 for four.
An alloy wheel on a top-of-the-range Toyota Yaris hatchback is $1000 — or $4000 for four — but look-a-likes cost just $1000 for a set.
Not all Chinese-made wheels are of substandard quality. Holden and Ford now fit Chinese-made wheels to cars on their Australian production lines, but the wheels are tested to strict internal standards that exceed government requirements.
However, the majority of Chinese wheel manufacturers supplying the spare parts market have no quality control standards and the Australian government does not test them.
“Some of the Chinese wheel suppliers might put a ‘QC’ (quality control) sticker on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s been tested. It just means they’ve put a sticker on it,” says Ian Raymond, an expert wheel repairer.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of damaged wheels coming to us for repair,” says Mr Raymond. “The number of counterfeit wheels on Australian roads would definitely be in the tens of thousands.”