Government Gives Warning About Counterfeit Air Bags

The Obama administration is preparing to warn car owners that dangerous counterfeit air bags may have been installed in vehicles that have had their air bags replaced in the past three years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration alerted the industry on Tuesday, October 9th, through a series of phone calls that tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags.The NHTSA testings has shown that these counterfeit bags either fail to inflate properly, or don’t inflate at all. In at least one of these testings, a counterfeit bag fired shards of plastic and other projectiles on impact.

The officials that are dealing with this issue requested that their names not be used because NHTSA had asked them not to speak with the public about the problem until after an announcement scheduled for today, October 10th. NHTSA will be asking car owners to learn if their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit air bags have been made by checking the government website, or calling their manufacturer or local dealership.

It is unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, nevertheless there are no official death or injuries that have been tied to the counterfeit bags.

The NHTSA has complied a draft list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit bags maybe available. The agency does caution at the top of the list that they “expect this list to evolve over time.”

If you have had your air bags replaced by a repair shop other than an auto dealership in the past three years, and discover that your car is on the list, you will be asked to bring the vehicle into a dealership to determine whether the replaced air bags are counterfeit. The fees for checking out air bags could run $100 or more, but it’s worth it because some cars may have as many as eight air bags.

Typically, the counterfeit bags have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer’s logo. Government official believe that many of the bags come from China.

The counterfeit bags are made to look like the real deal, but auto dealerships that operate their own body shops are normally required by their franchise agreements to buy their parts, including airbags, directly from automakers; therefore, it is unlikely that they installed counterfeit bags.

According to the National Association of Automobile Dealers’ website, only 37 percent of auto dealers have their own body shops. Insurance companies refer consumers whose vehicles have been damaged to auto body shops that aren’t affiliated with an automaker. Consumers who have bought replacement air bags online will also be urged to check the NHTSA’s list.

A wide variety of counterfeit auto parts has long been a well-known problem, but recent incidents have escalated concern by government officials. According to a report by the Charlotte Observer this past August, federal agents confiscated nearly 1,600 counterfeit bags as well as arresting a North Carolina auto mechanic. Federal officials tied this mechanic to another counterfeit air bag case last year in Tennessee.