How to prevent counterfeiting of alloy wheels
How to avoid buying counterfeit alloy wheels


Authentic aftermarket alloy wheels are produced to certain quality and safety standards, particularly when it comes to speciality alloy wheels meant for off-road vehicles or sports cars, which must hold up under the stress of more extreme driving conditions. Many enthusiasts start by "upgrading" factory-fitted alloy wheels for more eye-catching aftermarket ones. In South Africa, criminals have seen this 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 aftermarket wheel manufacturers.

These counterfeit or "replica" alloy wheels are not manufactured to the same quality standards as wheels produced by the original manufacturer or authentic aftermarket 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. The counterfeit wheels are often barely capable of carrying the weight of the vehicle and driver safely, let alone allowing for the safe transport 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 trademark proprietor and the trademarks are applied to these so-called "replica" wheels without the authority of the proprietors of those trademarks in South Africa.

How to prevent counterfeiting of alloy wheels

"Counterfeiting" is, in essence, unlawfully using the IP rights of someone else, without their authority, and creating goods that 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 trademark 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 satisfies this requirement and gives rise to the act of counterfeiting.

Trademark proprietors are increasingly clamping down on retailers of the counterfeit alloy wheels. However, many of these counterfeiters will raise the defence 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, 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; or
  • 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 aftermarket manufacturers have taken up arms in the fight against the counterfeiters. Wheel Pros LLC, an American company specialising in the manufacture and sale of high-end aftermarket wheels, and most notably the proprietor of brands such Fuel, Rotiform and Black Rhino, is at the forefront of this fight against counterfeit wheels, not just in South Africa but around the world. Through law enforcement agencies in various countries across the globe, Wheel Pros has conducted operations to seize and, ultimately, destroy counterfeit alloy wheels seeking to infringe their extensive trademark rights. It is 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 its legal partners, is 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.

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 their damage or failure. It is sadly the consumer that ultimately suffers, as they have paid for the 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.

How to avoid buying counterfeit alloy wheels

When purchasing a set of alloy wheels, consumers should consider the price – if it is too good to be true, it is likely exactly that. If a set of wheels that normally costs around 20 000 rand is advertised for half the price or less, consumers should be cautious.

Secondly, consumers should steer clear where the branding is not applied to the set of wheels or is provided separately. This is one of the biggest tells and is a common practice at unscrupulous counterfeit dealers whereby the decal stickers bearing the respective proprietors' trademarks 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.

For further information on this topic please contact Farrel Frank or Jarred West at Spoor & Fisher by telephone (+27 12 676 1111) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Spoor & Fisher website can be accessed at