Fastener vendors will manage inventories.
Fastener vendors will manage inventories.

For fleet managers, controlling maintenance costs in slow markets is a difficult balancing act. You're asked to hold costs down. But if you delay necessary maintenance, you'll affect uptime and sacrifice safety.

In these times, it's tempting to take advantage of bargain prices on parts. I'm not talking about obvious cases such as buying from the guy who drives up with a van full of parts in plain boxes, sources unknown. I'm referring to when your regular parts supplier offers a “special buy,” in which he's sharing his savings. The supplier may think he's doing you a favor, but is he?

If the parts look like new, feel like new, and fit like new, shouldn't they perform like new? And if you're able to save 50%, so much the better. So one would think.

But most of these low-priced or “will-fit” parts are counterfeit. They will fit, but in most cases, they will not perform. Their offshore manufacturers either intentionally cut corners or do not appreciate the need for proper specifications, tempering, heat-treating, and coatings manufacturers demand.

They often pay no attention to metallurgy, so they make parts with mild steel instead of high-strength steels. Coatings often fail to protect from corrosion. Substandard wear parts may last days or weeks.

In the last 18 months, problems associated with non-spec parts, including fasteners, have sprung up in the vehicle repair industry.

Groups like the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association have been raising public awareness of the growing problem of non-compliant products.

Federal legislation

Fasteners are no exception. The Fastener Quality Act (FQA) became law in 1990, but amendments delayed implementation for almost a decade and weakened the original intent. Today, almost nine years after the Act took effect, counterfeit fasteners still plague American industry.

Fasteners are critical to virtually every significant repair job on a truck. Whenever two or more components come together, fasteners do the job. Fastener failures cause accidents, and accidents cause injuries and deaths. And you could be held liable.

To minimize economic impact on buyers who unknowingly obtained quantities of sub-standard fasteners, the FQA allows distributors to comingle good and bad ones. Thus, many inferior items are still circulating. And more worrisome is that lots of 50 or less are virtually exempt from many quality requirement provisions.

American fasteners are made to consensus standards established by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and ASTM. Lines on the bolt or nut head pointing to the corners of the hex-head identify grades. There are three radiating lines pointing to every other corner for Grade 5, and six pointing to each corner for Grade 8. A letter or symbol must identify the manufacturer.

Counterfeit bolts are made to lesser standards, often of weaker materials. Known counterfeits identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include those marked FM, H, KS, M, MS, NF, and RT, or by the lack of a manufacturer's symbol.

Bolts marked with six lines in a semicircular sunburst or rising sun pattern are Grade 8.2, which is made of low-carbon, martensite steel. SAE Grade 5s are made of medium carbon steel, and Grade 8s, from medium-carbon high-alloy steel. Grade 8 bolts are harder than Grade 5s, but only slightly more brittle. Grade 8s have a higher tensile strength. Both are tough and able to resist strong lateral forces.

To avoid these problems, know your source. Specify the right size and grade of fastener.

— Paul Abelson is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association.

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