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Cheap alloy wheels are dangerous: FCAI

Hard to pick: Engineers compare a genuine Mercedes-Benz alloy wheel with an imitation wheel brought in for testing in Australia, which looks identical but was found to be dangerously inferior.

Local testing shows imitation wheels from China can shatter at just 50km/h


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26 Oct 2015

INEXPENSIVE non-genuine alloy wheels bought off the internet are endangering lives on Australian roads, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

Ramping up its ‘Genuine is Best’ campaign this week, the FCAI – which is is the peak industry body for the car-makers – is concerned that many imported wheels do not meet Australian design standards and that the relevant federal government authorities, Border Force and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), seem powerless to prevent sub-standard wheels from being imported and sold.

Local tests have shown that an imitation wheel that looks identical to a standard Mercedes-Benz alloy wheel actually shatters when it hits a gutter at the suburban speed limit of 50km/h.

The same test shows the genuine Mercedes-Benz wheel passing the test with no deformation or cracking. Both tests were done at the GM Holden proving ground at Lang Lang under the supervision of Holden and Mercedes-Benz engineers.

There was even a danger to pedestrians as a shrapnel-sized piece of wheel flew off at high speed during the test.

The test was organised by Mercedes-Benz, which has been a target for wheel counterfeiters.

“There is a serious safety risk in using fake parts,” said FCAI chief executive Tony Weber.

“Wheels are a popular and easy part of a car to replace. They look sportier and they personalise a car. But, while they may change the look, they also may make the car less safe.”

Mr Weber said it was horrifying to think what might happen if a car hit a pothole at 100km/h.

“You would have had an absolute tragedy if this breakage happened with a family on board at highway speeds,” he said.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy said the wheels should not be allowed into the country because they do not meet Australian design standards.

“The rules are there to ensure that wheels are safe. Fake parts are unsafe and, in addition, they are a theft of intellectual property,” he said.

“The people who make these wheels don’t care if they don’t meet Australian standards.”

Mr McCarthy said the industry was not able to stop the fake wheels entering the country. But he did say Mercedes-Benz would be pursuing anyone who was selling the fake Mercedes-Benz wheels to Australian customers.

Five-times Australian Touring Car Champion Mark Skaife signed on to be an ambassador for the campaign after seeing the fake wheel shatter during the test at the GM Holden proving ground.

“It was a brand-new wheel, fresh out of the box. It should have been able to handle a lifetime of use,” he said.

The wheel was bought over the internet and shipping documents show it had been air-freighted from Hong Kong.

Mr Skaife was particularly concerned because it was young drivers who were often most attracted to fitting alloy wheels to their cars.

“Young drivers are particularly at risk. They are drawn to sportier-looking wheels,” he said.

“When you replace a component with a fake part, it becomes the weakest link in the safety chain.

“Would you replace your airbags with parts that are not genuine? Would you use a fake part on a Boeing jet.”

Mr McCarthy said fake wheels looked virtually identical to genuine parts because a genuine part was used to make the die-casting mould.

The only reliable way to determine whether the wheel is genuine is to look at the reverse side. Often the genuine brand name and logo has been scrubbed off the mould.

Responsibility for checking imports into the country lies with Australian Border Force, which runs the customs service.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission should also be interested in the issue as the wheels clearly do not meet Australian standards and are, therefore, not of merchantable quality.

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