Counterfeit airbags put drivers at risk

Airbags are supposed to protect people from injury in an accident, but federal safety officials say there are counterfeit devices out there that might not work in a serious crash, or pepper occupants with metal shrapnel. The problem is not with the airbags installed in new cars but with replacement bags that auto repair shops install. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says organized crime is behind the scheme and officials are not really sure how many bad airbags might be mounted in unsuspecting motorists’ cars.

Complicating the investigation is the fact that the bogus airbags look the same as the factory originals and have the same markings. Dealerships get all their parts from the manufacturer, or they should, but independent repair shops buy parts on the open market, and that’s where the counterfeits get into the supply chain. Anyone who had an airbag replaced at an independent repair shop in the last three years should get it checked.

NHTSA believes the number of phony airbags is small, and maybe 0.1 percent of the cars on the road may have one. It’s important to note that cars with the original airbags that have not gone off in an accident or have been replaced are safe. Drivers who are concerned can take the vehicle to a dealer and have the airbag system checked at their own expense. If a bad airbag is found there is little recourse other than to go back to the repair shop where it was installed. Dealers won’t offer free replacement for faulty equipment installed at an independent shop. The investigation into the source of the phony car parts continues.

Source: Reuters, “Safety regulators warn about counterfeit airbags, Ben Klayman, Oct. 10, 2012

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