MANUFACTURERS OF COUNTERFEIT BOLTS
The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) started an aggressive campaign to eliminate the
use of counterfeit and substandard bolts by vehicle and component manufacturers.
NHTSA's Office of Defects
Investigation has compiled a list of suspect fasteners which charts the maker's
mark of each bolt for easy identification (see chart on this page.) That list
was distributed to approximately 50 vehicles and component manufacturers who
names were obtained by customer lists seized by the U.S. Customs Service in
shipments of counterfeit and/or substandard Society of Automotive Engineers
(SAE) Grade 5 and Grade 8 bolts.
Counterfeit and substandard
bolts have been implicated in a number of vehicle accidents and two recalls by
heavy truck manufacturers Petterbilt and Freightliner of Canada. Substandard
"KS" SAW Grade 8.2 bolts caused Peterbilt's 1988 recall of 556 tractors for
steering assembly failures while Freightliner of Canada recalled 364 tractors
last year. KS bolts have been blamed for the death of at least one truck driver.
CCJ has obtained a copy of a
confidential letter of warning written by NHTSA that urges against the use of
bolts identified in the list and cautions manufacturers never to purchase SEA
Grade 5 or SAE Grade 8 bolts lacking a maker's mark. Included in the
confidential mailing was a questionnaire to which manufacturers were required to
respond within 30 days.
"Failure to respond promptly
and fully to this letter may be construed as a violation," wrote Michael B.
Browning, director of NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation-Enforcement
Ten specific questions
relating to bolt use and quality of inspection policies are summarized here:
· What precautions, if any,
are taken to protect against installation of counterfeit and/or substandard
bolts in vehicles and/or vehicular components?
· If you have any listed bolt
in inventory, who supplied it?
· If you have any listed bolt
for vehicle or component assembly, which applications, makes, models and
production dates are involved.
· What documents regarding
bolt related safety recalls, customer complaints, warranty claims, accident
reports and/or lawsuits are on file? It was noted that copies of all material
must be submitted for analysis by NHTSA.
NHTSA currently is seeking to
halt the use of SAE Grade 5 and Grade 8 bolts produced by certain companies.
Both grades are used widely on commercial trucks and trailers. At the top of the
agency's hit list are counterfeit SAE Grade 5 and SAE Grade 8 bolts imported
from sources in Japan and elsewhere.
Genuine SAE Grade 8 bolts are
expensive because they're made of premium-priced alloy steel. Genuine SAE Grade
5 bolts cost less because they're produced from medium-carbon steel.
Counterfeit versions of those
bolts are made from relatively inexpensive, low-carbon martinsite steel, an
easily worked metal used in SAE Grade 5.2 bolts and SAE Grade 8.2 bolts.
In effect, compliance with
SAE's J429 specification would result in metric Grade 5.2 and 8.2 bolts being as
durable as an SAE Grade 5 and Grade 8, respectively. Unfortunately, some
counterfeiters are poor craftsmen, producing fakes which often break under 20%
smaller load and permanently deform under a 30% smaller load than the genuine
article, tests prove.
warn that the risks posed by poorly-made counterfeits must not be taken lightly.
While these bolts may not fail immediately when torqued, they may stretch. That
causes vehicle assemblies to loosen, thereby promoting fatigue cracking and
component failure. Stretched and broken counterfeit SAE Grade 8 bolts have been
discovered by commercial vehicle operators in critical installations such as 5th
Certain imported bolts, while
not counterfeit, often fail to comply with SAW J429 quality standards for the
SAE grade indicated by their headmark. Installing dangerously-weak bolts in
critical installations requiring tough Grade 5's and Grade 8's is equivalent to
Russian roulette, congressional investigators warn.
NHTSA is trying to be
proactive about bad bolts. Rather than waiting for a pattern of failure to be
documented, NHTSA lowered the boom on Neoplan USA Corporation's Bus & Coach
Division in Denver, Colorado.
Neoplan informed the NHTSA's
associate administrator for enforcement, George Parker, that 400 transit buses
made for RTD of Denver, Colo., and SORTA of Cincinnati, OH, were likely to
contain counterfeit and/or substandard SAE Grade 5 and SAE Grade 8 bolts with
marks including the "KS" logo.
Such bolts may have been used
to an extent not determined, for retaining steering assemblies, drive shafts and
engines, Neoplan admitted.
Accordingly, NHTSA leaned on
the bus maker to voluntarily replace all suspect bolts found in those 400 buses.
treatment of Neoplan is designed to send a message to other vehicle makers. That
is, Uncle Sam will no longer tolerate the sometimes deadly use of bad bolts in
Part of the problem faced by
vehicle makers is that bad bolts often are accompanied by bogus certification of
compliance with SAE J429 or equivalent standards, NHTSA says.
For that reason, the agency
strongly urges vehicle and component makers to use a laboratory to spot-check
the compliance of newly received bolts with SAW specs; deal only with reputable
vendors of high-quality fasteners; establish a formal program to save failed
fasteners for laboratory analysis.
The NHTSA also said that, at
a later date, it will turn its attention to automotive applications of
dangerously inferior metric bolts.