Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed, according to a warning from the Obama Administration last month. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says only 0.1% of the U.S. vehicle fleet — about 250,000 cars on the road — are makes and models for which counterfeit airbags are known to be available. Industry officials briefed by the government said tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags. In government tests last month of 11 counterfeit bags, ten 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, according to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who showed a video of the test at a news conference. He calls the problem “an extreme safety risk.”
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, according to NHTSA. But industry officials say it’s unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to differentiate a counterfeit bag from a genuine bag.
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.
Officials at NHTSA made clear that the airbag 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, according to industry officials.
About 2,500 counterfeit airbags have been seized by law enforcement authorities so far this year. Investigations are in progress in several locations around the country, according to John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Source: ABC News
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