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Counterfeit Air Bags Can Cause Serious Injuries, Even Death

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Still shot from YouTube video of testing of fake air bags

From YouTube video of testing of fake air bags.

Counterfeit air bags installed after vehicle crashes can fail to deploy in an accident and can seriously injure people by exploding, sending metal shrapnel into the passenger cabin, the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) cautions in a consumer warning.

ConsumerReports.org quotes U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood:

Anytime equipment that is critical to protecting drivers and passengers fails to operate properly, it is a serious safety concern. We want consumers to be immediately aware of this problem and to review our safety information to see if their vehicle could be in need of inspection.

Although, as Consumer Reports writes, NHTSA says the counterfeit air bags have not (yet) caused deaths or injuries, the agency urges vehicle owners to contact manufacturers of those vehicles if:

  • They have replaced their air bags within the last three years at a repair shop (not including factory-backed car dealership ones);
  • They have bought replacement airbags online; or
  • They bought a user car that might have been in an accident before the purchase in which the airbag deployed.

Jerry Hirsh, writing for the Los Angeles Times, reports that the fake air bags look almost exactly like certified, original parts, “right down to bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” and that the problem affects almost every major air bag brand.

Hirsh quotes Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety:

Airbags save several thousands of lives annually. But they can’t save lives if they have not been repaired properly. When an auto repairer installs a counterfeit airbag, consumers can be killed in a crash.

Because this is not a recall, consumers have to pay for their vehicles to be inspected, and to replace the bogus air bags, Hirsch writes. He reports that the NHTSA says it is working with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Intellectual Property Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to better understand the counterfeit air bags issue and how to prevent them from being bought and installed in vehicles.

Hirsch quotes NHTSA Administrator David Strickland:

We expect all motor vehicle equipment to meet federal safety standards — and air bags in particular play a central role in keeping drivers and passengers safe in the event of a crash. That’s why it’s critical that vehicle owners work with their automotive dealers and repair professionals to ensure they use the appropriate, original-equipment parts in the event they need to replace their air bag.

Vehicle owners can find toll-free numbers to call — call centers set up by NHTSA and U.S. and foreign automakers — for more information about counterfeit air bags at: http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Shoppers/Air+Bags/Counterfeit+Air+Bags+Contact+List.

You can see a video of a government test of the fake air bags here:

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