Counterfeit Air Bags Extreme Safety Risk

By Paul Mitchell, Q.C.
Categories: Blog, Personal Injury

Thousands of motorists may be driving cars and trucks installed with dangerous counterfeit air bags.

Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed.

The Los Angeles Times reports, "Federal safety regulators are warning that counterfeit air bags are being installed by auto repair shops that might not deploy in an accident or alternately, could explode, sending metal shrapnel into the vehicle’s passenger cabin.

The fake air bags look nearly identical to certified, original-equipment parts, right down to bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.   

Most at risk are motorists who have had their airbags replaced over the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials said.

In government tests last month of 11 counterfeit bags, 10 didn’t inflate or failed to inflate properly.

In one test, a counterfeit bag shot flames and shards of metal shrapnel at a crash dummy instead of inflating, said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who showed a video of the test at a news conference.

SEE THE VIDEO OF EXPLODING COUNTERFEIT AIR BAG HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go2e6kjFGx4

"It is an extreme safety risk," he said.

NHTSA is asking car owners to check a government website, www.Safercar.gov, for information on how to contact a call center established by auto manufacturers to learn if their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit air bags are known to have been made.

No deaths or injuries have been tied to the counterfeit bags, NHTSA said. But it’s unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, industry officials said.

NHTSA has compiled a list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit air bags may be available, but the agency cautioned that the full scope of the problem isn’t clear yet and the list is expected to "evolve over time."

If a car is on the list and has had its air bags replaced during the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, NHTSA is asking owners to take the vehicle into a dealership to be inspected at their own expense to determine whether the replaced air bags are counterfeit. Fees for checking out air bags could run $100 or more, industry officials said. Some types of cars have as many as eight air bags.

NHTSA officials stressed that the problem isn’t the result of a manufacturing defect by automakers and isn’t a recall.

The counterfeit bags typically have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer’s logo. Government investigators believe many of the bags come from China, an industry official said.

The bags are marketed to auto repair and body shops as the real deal, industry officials said. Auto dealerships that operate their own body shops are usually required by their franchise agreements to buy their parts, including air bags, directly from automakers and therefore are unlikely to have installed counterfeit bags, industry officials said.

But only 37 percent of auto dealers have their own body shops, according to information on the National Association of Automobile Dealers’ website. Many consumers whose vehicles have been damaged are referred by their insurance companies to auto body shops that aren’t affiliated with an automaker.

Consumers who bought replacement air bags online or who have purchased a used car that may have its airbags replaced in the past three years were also asked to check NHTSA’s list.