Running flat with counterfeit alloy wheels

Authentic after-market alloy wheels are produced to certain quality and safety standards, more so when it comes to speciality alloy wheels meant for off-road vehicles or sports cars, where the alloy wheels must hold up under the stress of more extreme driving conditions. South Africans love their cars, and many enthusiasts start by ‘upgrading’ factory fitted alloy wheels for more eye-catching aftermarket ones.

Criminals have seen the gap and are flooding the market with counterfeit car parts and accessories, including alloy wheels bearing the trademarks of popular well-known car manufacturers as well as those of legitimate after-market wheel manufacturers.

These counterfeit or “replica” alloy wheels are not manufactured to the same quality standards as the OEM wheels or authentic after-market wheels and run the very real risk of failure or damage. It is this risk to health, safety and life that is the primary concern of the affected brand holders. In certain instances, the load bearing capacity of the counterfeit wheels is almost half that of the authentic alloy wheels.

Counterfeit, “replica” wheels

The counterfeit alloy wheels are often barely capable of carrying the weight of the vehicle and driver safely let alone allowing for the safe transportation of goods or passengers.
The term “replica wheels” in South Africa is somewhat of a misnomer, as in most instances they are nothing other than fake or counterfeit products.

A “replica” can be defined as being an “exact copy” or “model” of something. This may include a statue, a work of art or even an alloy wheel. Many purveyors of aftermarket alloy wheels (also referred to as mags or colloquially, rims) sell and/or offer for sale “replica” wheels. However, these alloy wheels are not made by or with the authority of the trade mark proprietor and the trade marks applied to these so-called replica wheels are done so without the authority of the proprietors of those trade marks in South Africa.

Counterfeiting is in essence, unlawfully using the intellectual property rights of someone else, without their authority and creating goods which purport to be the authentic products. The act of counterfeiting is strongly founded on elements of deception with the main objective being to dupe the unsuspecting consumer.

Counterfeiting, however, requires more than just trade mark infringement, it is the additional conduct of creating counterfeit packaging for example, or selling and/or offering these counterfeit wheels as though they are the authentic products that satisfy this requirement and gives rise to the act of counterfeiting.

The Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997

Trade mark proprietors are increasingly clamping down on the retailers of the counterfeit alloy wheels. However, many of these counterfeiters will raise the defense that they did not know that the alloy wheels were counterfeit and thus should not be held accountable or liable. The Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997 (“the Act”) however states that a person will be guilty of an offence if at the time of the offence, the person dealing in those goods knew or had reason to suspect that those goods were counterfeit, alternatively, if the person dealing in the goods in question failed to take all reasonable steps to avoid the act or conduct of dealing in counterfeit goods. Essentially, the onus is on the person selling the goods to ensure that they took all reasonable steps to ensure that the goods they are selling are genuine.

Many vehicle manufacturers and after-market manufacturers have taken up arms in the fight against counterfeiters. Wheel Pros LLC, an American company specializing in the manufacture and sale of high-end after-market wheels, and most notably the proprietor of brands such as FUEL, ROTIFORM and BLACK RHINO to name a few, are at the forefront of this fight against counterfeit wheels, not just in South Africa but around the world.

Wheel Pros LLC

Through law enforcement agencies in various countries across the globe, Wheel Pros have conducted operations to seize and, ultimately destroy counterfeit alloy wheels seeking to infringe their extensive trade mark rights. They are actively pursuing civil and criminal cases against these counterfeiters.

In the South African market, Muhammad Shameer Khan, a Durban businessman who was dealing in counterfeit BLACK RHINO Wheels was found guilty in the Durban Magistrates Court of 54 counts of dealing in counterfeit goods, in contravention of the Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997. This stemmed from a search and seizure warrant being executed at Khan’s business premises on behalf of Wheel Pros.

Wheel Pros through their legal partners are working closely with local law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Customs and Excise as well as specialised branches of the South African Police to bring these counterfeiters to justice by conducting numerous search and seizure operations throughout the country.

Risk resulting from counterfeit alloy wheels

The other risk resulting from counterfeit alloy wheels is the potential reputational damage that the respective brands face. Consumers, being unaware of the counterfeit nature of the new alloy wheels they have just purchased, will blame the proprietor for the damage or failure of these counterfeit alloy wheels. It is sadly the consumer that ultimately suffers as they have paid for these wheels and then must pay to have them repaired or replaced in the event of damage or failure.

They could potentially face extensive repairs to their vehicle as well. However, the cost of a life is immeasurable. It is for this reason that South African law enforcement agencies are taking this offence particularly seriously.

Here are some simple tips when purchasing a set of alloy wheels.

  1. Firstly, consider the price – if it’s too good to be true, it is exactly that. If you know a set of wheels costs around R20 000, and you see it being advertised for half the price or less, beware.
  2. Secondly, if the branding is not applied to the set of wheels or is provided separately, you should steer clear. More so if the branding is handed to you separately for you to apply at home or upon fitment.

This is one of the biggest tells and is common practice at unscrupulous counterfeit dealers whereby the decal stickers bearing the respective proprietors’ trade marks are not affixed to the wheel and are provided separately, usually at the point of sale. This is done in a misguided attempt to evade prosecution.

Consumers beware, purchasing a cheap set of counterfeit alloy wheels will in all likelihood reinforce the South African adage, “Goedkoop is duurkoop”.