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Counterfeit airbags: What you need to know

November 1, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Car owners who have had air bags replaced may have dangerous counterfeit air bags installed

I admit it sounds a bit crazy.  But imagine – you are involved in a car accident and your air bag deploys.  But instead of saving your life, it expels sharp metal fragments and shrapnel.
I have started seeing these counterfeit airbag cases come up, and Detroit seems to be one of the hotbeds where this is taking place.

Take a look at the video below from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It that demonstrates how dangerous these counterfeit airbags can be:

And as president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association this year, I am also aware that this risk of dangerous counterfeit airbags has spread nationally.  Product liability lawyers and attorneys helping people in car accidents across the country are seeing these dangerous airbags popping up – quite literally – and causing considerable added carnage and injury.

If you’ve had your air bag replaced in the last three years, there’s a chance that a counterfeit air bag was installed that will not inflate properly – and that could expel metal shrapnel, according to a consumer advisory warning from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

“While these air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts — including bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers — NHTSA testing  showed consistent malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the air bag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.”

A list of vehicles that could be equipped with counterfeit airbags is included in the consumer advisory warning.

Who is at risk

According to the NHTSA, the following groups of consumers could be at risk:

  • Consumers who have had air bags replaced within the past three years at a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership.
  • Consumers who have purchased a used car that may have sustained an air bag deployment before their purchase.
  • Consumers who own a car with a title branded salvage, rebuilt or reconstructed.
  • Consumers who have purchased replacement air bags from eBay or other non-certified sources, especially if they were purchased at unusually low prices (such as less than $400).

What you can do to protect yourself from counterfeit airbags

If you think you might have a counterfeit airbag, here’s what you can do:

Contact the call center that has been established by their auto manufacturer to have their vehicle inspected at their own expense and their air bag replaced if necessary.

Here’s a full list of call centers and additional information from www.SaferCar.gov.

It probably is not necessary to speak with an injury  attorney unless an accident has occurred and you’ve learned that you are a victim of counterfeit airbags too late.  But I would strongly recommend talking to the prosecutor’s office and filing a police report so the police can stop this before someone is killed by an airbag non-deployment – or worse.

If you have been injured, remember, most personal injury attorneys should offer you free advice. You can get your questions answered and protect your legal rights.

Where do counterfeit airbags originate?

The NHTSA says it has been working with a number of government agencies to prevent counterfeit airbags from being purchased and installed in vehicles.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton stated that organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit and substandard airbags to consumers and suppliers.

The counterfeit airbags are said to have originated in China, and are marketed to repair shops as the real thing.

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