Welcome to the Wonderful World of Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber is the sweet nectar of the gods to car enthusiasts.
In APEX: The Story of the Hypercar automotive journalist and host of Top Gear UK and /DRIVE on NBC Sports Chris Harris was quoted as saying: “There’s a feeling in the industry at times that you could solve third world debt with carbon fiber”, but among car enthusiasts there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding to what the most sought after enthusiast material really is. Truthfully there are multiple “levels” of carbon fiber.
I love to stay an active member on my respective current cars automotive forum. I was poking around the forums on M3post and found a thread discussing carbon fiber, the real pieces and the fake pieces. I dropped my two cents on the thread, but decided I wanted to go further in depth.
I will not go into the science of carbon fiber and confuse with terms like prepreg, epoxy, and weave. I will keep it at the consumer level of what you buy not how it is made, besides Koenigsegg does an amazing job explaining that on The Drive series /INSIDE KOENIGSEGG.
In my forum post I mentioned the four levels of carbon fiber. I say levels now, because it is like grade level in terms of quality.
- OEM carbon fiber – The top level carbon fiber, the part is made 100% out of carbon fiber. Usually clear coated on the side exposed and raw carbon on the side not exposed. Always a significant cost over the other options.
- Aftermarket real carbon fiber – The quality of the carbon fiber attempts to be on par with OEM’s, but the items are not made from OEM molds. With less well-known companies fitment is an issue, but the product is 100% carbon fiber. Easy UV damaged carbon fiber can also be an issue with unknown companies.
- Aftermarket coated carbon fiber – The parts are usually a 90/10 blend of plastic and carbon fiber covering. Think gold plated objects, where the item is 90% alternative cheap metal and the top is gold.
- Carbon fiber stickers/decals/wraps – The attempt is to imitate an object/part/body panel is made out of carbon fiber, but it is all show with no real carbon fiber.
While there are these four levels of carbon fiber, there is also disparity within each level. For example, in terms of the OEM carbon fiber, the carbon fiber you get from Koenigsegg will differ in quality from the carbon fiber you get from Ford.
With aftermarket real carbon fiber, there are plenty well-known shops which do 3d laser scanning which can provide OEM fitment for their carbon fiber parts, but aftermarket carbon fiber is also where many people get ripped off with what they buy. There are plenty of aftermarket real carbon fiber items being sold on eBay right now for the same prices as someone trying to sell the coated 90/10 carbon fiber. If you are going to pay carbon fiber prices, make sure you are getting the amount/quality of carbon fiber you pay for.
Carbon fiber is great. It looks beautiful so it satisfies those of the form and it is lightweight so it satisfies those of the function. Post your carbon fiber parts on your rides in the comments below.
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