US warns on fake airbags

2012-10-10 09:59

WASHINGTON — The US government is preparing to warn car owners whose airbags have been replaced in the past three years that dangerous counterfeit bags may have been installed, according to industry officials who have been briefed by the government.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) alerted the industry in a series of telephone briefings on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 that tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit airbags, the auto industry officials said.

NHTSA testing has shown some of the counterfeit bags don't inflate or fail to inflate properly, they said. In at least one case, a counterfeit bag fired shards of plastic and other projectiles on impact, they said.


The officials requested that their names not be used because NHTSA had asked them not to speak publicly about the problem until after an announcement scheduled for Wednesday, October 10.

NHTSA will ask car owners to check a government website, or call their manufacturer or local dealership to learn if their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit airbags have been made, officials said.

No deaths or injuries have been tied to the counterfeit bags, but it's unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, officials said.

The agency has compiled a draft list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit air bags may be available, but warned it "expects this list to evolve over time."

If the car is on the list and has had its airbags replaced during the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, owners will be asked to bring the vehicle into a dealership to determine whether the replaced airbags are counterfeit. Fees for checking out airbags could cost the equivalent of R850 and more, industry officials said. and some cars have as many as eight airbags.


The counterfeit bags typically have been made to look like airbags 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 panel shops as the real deal, officials said. Car dealerships that operate their own repair shops are usually required by their franchise agreements to buy their parts, including airbags, directly from automakers and therefore are unlikely to have installed counterfeit bags, officials said.

But only 37% of US auto dealers have their own repair shops, according to information on the National Association of Automobile Dealers' website. Many consumers whose vehicles have been damaged are referred by their insurance companies to panel shops that aren't affiliated with an automaker.

Consumers who bought replacement airbags online will also be urged to check the NHTSA's list.

A request to the National Association of Motor Manufacturers and Distributors for the South African situation had at the time of going live received no response.