NHTSA: Bogus air bags can cause serious injuries in car accidents

Air bags are responsible for saving countless lives in serious car accidents in the Chicago area every year. They are part of a progressive wave of motor vehicle safety improvements that has also included stability control, anti-lock brakes, lane departure warning systems and seatbelts, arguably the most conspicuous safety feature. But sometimes air bags are defective and can cause harm.

When an air bag deploys in a crash, it must be replaced, as long as the damage to the rest of the vehicle is not so severe that the car must be scrapped. There are many businesses that offer air bag replacement services, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a warning that some repair shops may be installing counterfeit air bags. According to NHTSA tests, these air bags are defective, at times failing to inflate, at other times showering occupants with shards of metal upon inflation.

Complicating matters, these air bags bear the outward appearance of the true product. They have the labels and markings of automobile manufacturers affixed to them. It seems that the counterfeit air bags may be coming in from outside the country, as NHTSA announced that it was teaming with U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to get a better grasp of the problem.

NHTSA did note, however, that air bags installed in new cars at the factory or in used cars at a new-car dealership are genuine. The risk of counterfeit air bags is confined to replacements made within the last three years at auto shops that are not associated with new-car dealers.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Safety regulators warn about counterfeit air bags,” Ben Klayman, Oct. 10, 2012