Cheap Auto Parts Are Hazardous

April 18, 2010

The untold story of “pay me now or pay me a whole lot later”.

Over the past few decades (or longer), the U.S. consumer has become accustomed to cheap products at the store. Because the price is so low, it never is a “big deal” when it wears out quickly because they can just run out to the store and replace it with another cheap item. However, the biggest risk that the consumer faces when buying a cheap soap dispenser is that the pump fails. However, installing cheap brakes on your car carries a significant risk. Global out sourcing of auto parts has put the consumer at risk, a very big risk. In fact, sometimes the form of pay me later comes in the form of a fatality.

The F.M.V.S.S. (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) are easily side stepped by unscrupulous “grey goods” that arrive to our shores daily stocked at our local auto parts stores. Manufacturers in China, India and other countries are well known for shoddy workmanship and sub-par components.

These poor quality parts are thrust upon do-it-yourselfers and uncaring repair shops whose only focus is the cheap price. As a matter of fact, some auto repair shops take advantage of these cheap parts by luring the unknowing consumer in with a low repair quote. With price as their only concern, they are putting the lives and safety (of many) at risk. Failure of inferior parts such as brakes can certainly cause injury or death of the occupants of a vehicle OR perhaps be a significant hazard to other drivers or pedestrians who share the roadways.

The average consumer would never think that a toy or a pallet of drywall could be hazardous, but tainted with lead paint or chemicals when produced in countries with lax or no safety standards, these products can be toxic and cause serious injury. The same applies to these cheap auto parts and the unsuspecting consumer may not know how they are truly risking their lives and the safety of others.    

Yes, it seems like we are more concerned about protecting the wealth of a movie studio by cracking down on “Pirated” DVD’s than we are about cracking down on the importation of potentially hazardous products.

Here’s an example of some of these poor quality parts and your risk factors:

Brake Parts: especially sub-standard brake pads and brake shoes can under perform and extend the stopping distance of your vehicle. Poor quality and inferior brake rotors, brake drums and hydraulic system parts can also compromise your vehicles safety and durability.

Tires: Economy brand and no-name tires are everywhere! Arguably, the most important component on a vehicle. Because of the harsh conditions that they endure, a cheap tire can fail prematurely causing problems with traction and control of the vehicle. Low quality tires will increase the vehicles stopping distance and have poor handling characteristics as well as reduce your fuel economy.

Drive Belts: Most vehicles now have a wide multi-ribbed one-belt system which is also known as a Serpentine Drive Belt. One belt has the critical function of keeping the power steering, water pump and alternator functioning as well as non-critical items such as the air conditioning. When the Serpentine belt fails, the power steering system becomes disabled, the engine could overheat rapidly and the alternator is no longer charging the battery. This situation would make it necessary to shut down the vehicle, potentially leaving its occupants stranded.  

Hoses: Every vehicle has an array of many types and sizes of hoses. The cooling system hoses and by-pass hoses help keep your engine operating at a proper temperature level and failure of any one of these hoses can cause engine overheating, again potentially leaving the occupants stranded. Engine overheating can cause major engine damage and huge repair costs.

Filters: Poor quality filters are a slow and silent killer! Oil, air and fuel filters are rather inexpensive anyway, however, inferior quality filters can accelerate engine wear and poor quality fuel filters can cause fuel injectors to fail which can cause immediate loss of engine power and are rather expensive to replace.

 When it comes time to purchase auto parts for your vehicle or when taking your vehicle in to the shop for repairs and maintenance, always insist that O.E.M. (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or equivalent parts are used or the “pay me now or pay me a whole lot later” scenario may jeopardize your safety as well as taking a big bite out of your wallet!

Cary Lockwood of is an automotive consumer advocate and the host of Your Auto Network’s Calling All Cars radio show on KXXT 1010 AM Phoenix and KXEG 1280 AM Phoenix. Cary is also on the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Repair Advisory Committee. Cary has over 30 years in the auto industry as an engineering technician at G.M. as well as being an auto repair shop owner for 10 years. You can download the radio show by going to You can also post your automotive questions through the contact page of the website.