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Viewpoint: Bad spec’ing decisions can be costly

The trickle of cheap offshore knock-offs that started about 10 years ago is becoming a torrent.


The trickle of cheap offshore knock-offs that started about 10 years ago is becoming a torrent.

It’s estimated that the big three North American truck lighting manufacturers have lost 15% of their business to offshore knock-offs in the last few years.

Our own research last year found that 20% of fleets and 10% of owner/operators have purchased cheap offshore tires in the past year. Braking systems and fifth wheel components are also popular targets for knock-off products.

The best operators, like Bill Arthur at LE Walker Transport, a former Maintenance Manager of the Year Award winner, already disapprove of distributors who try to push such offshore products. He told us he uses four distributors that are committed to offering brand-name parts.

But for fleets and owner/operators running on razor thin profit margins, it will prove hard not to be enticed by these products when they offer 20% or 30% savings off the regular purchase price for aftermarket parts.

And they will be pushing their parts distributors to make them available.

Rather than taking the attitude that “the customer is always right” and moving towards offering such products, I hope parts distributors will instead take the time to school fleets and owner/operators on the true long-term costs of cheap offshore knockoffs. They need to remind them that while their profit margins may be razor thin, so too is their margin for error – shippers just aren’t very understanding of delays caused by equipment failures.

From the experts we’ve spoken to, these knock-off products may look the same – right down to having the same bubble pack and printing on the box – but they don’t perform the same. Some imported LED lamps, for example, tested at 50% lower than the minimum for intensity. Some have actually been tested at 90% below the minimum requirements.

We’ve heard of knock-off brake valves that look so identical to the established brands that even the brand company’s own engineers have trouble visually distinguishing the difference. Yet, a detailed inspection finds wall castings so thin that a rupture could occur in the side of the valve causing the brakes to come on at speed; and o-rings made out of lower-quality material that wears out quickly because it can’t handle temperature extremes.

Our own research found that the vast majority of fleets and owner/operators using cheap offshore tires are not bothering to retread them.

Ed Roeder of Muir’s Cartage, and another Maintenance Man-ager of the Year Award winner, told us he learned to avoid knock-offs because of something as innocuous as a poorly woven rear door strap.

The $6 offering broke free just as a driver was using it to support himself – almost sending him into traffic.

Like the old saying goes, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at lou@TransportationMedia.ca.


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