CLEVELAND — The damage that can be caused to an automobile by a faked or counterfeit timing belt, v-belt or v-ribbed belt can be catastrophic, according to ContiTech.
“Many consumers are unaware of these counterfeit or ‘knock-off’ automotive products flooding the market,” said Roger Homer, director of sales and marketing for ContiTech’s North American Power Transmission Group. “Sometimes entire containers with up to 40,000 counterfeit ContiTech belts land in European harbors alone, not to mention the untold number that show up in North America.”
As a proactive measure, ContiTech has been working for more than a year to make its high-quality belts more difficult to fake, to protect customers from the resulting damages.
“We already replaced the lettering and certain font types on many of the belts, but our experience was that the counterfeiters are always quick to copy us,” he said. Other processes such as marking the belts with UV light are also easy to imitate. And other markings that have been used successfully in the printing industry on paper and films cannot be mixed into the rubber or disappear in the vulcanization process.
According to Homer, most of the counterfeit products come from Russia and the Far East, especially China. ContiTech has already undertaken legal action against a manufacturer in Taiwan. Although copying products is a crime, legal action is rare.
“You first have to find the counterfeiters,” said Homer. “No one puts his address on the products he has copied.”
The counterfeit or “pirated” products are often bought and sold by independent workshops and dealers that are not certified, and they think they are getting a good deal with the cheap belts. But in the case of new belts, sometimes even a layperson can recognize the difference between the original and the copy.
The lettering on v-belts is often an indication, since the Conti-yellow has a green tinge on many of the copies. And the fabric joint on many of the pirated v-ribbed belts is just sewn and not securely welded.
It becomes difficult to tell the difference, however, on v-ribbed belts and on used belts where the lettering is no longer legible. In such cases, lab specimens are the only possibility: “The copies usually have 50 to 60 percent less reinforcement material,” said Homer. “And they often contain materials that are no longer allowed.” Based upon these components, it is often possible to conclude where the copies originated.
Even though ContiTech has yet to invent the belt that is absolutely counterfeit-proof, they know an effective way to protect against copies: “Don’t buy those cheap belts sold in large quantities at flea markets or elsewhere. Original products are the best.” ContiTech is a division of Continental AG, one of the world’s top automotive components suppliers with at present worldwide more than 81,000 employees and sales of more than $15 billion in 2004.