The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will warn U.S. car owners today that tens of thousands of counterfeit airbags may be installed in vehicles that have been repaired following crashes in the past three years.
The counterfeit airbags, the majority of which are believed to have been made in China, bear automaker logos and look nearly identical to certified replacement parts. However, NHTSA tests have revealed that most of the counterfeit airbags do not inflate or fail to inflate properly, and at least one unit actually sprayed shrapnel on impact.
The NHTSA is urging owners of vehicles with replacement airbags to check its website – www.safecar.gov - for information on how to reach automakers’ call centers to learn whether their car could have counterfeit airbags.
"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," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
Only vehicles that have had airbags replaced in the past three years by repair shops that are not affiliated with new car dealerships are at risk, according to the NHTSA. No injuries or deaths stemming from the counterfeit airbags have been reported, and, while the full extent of the problem is not yet known, it’s likely that only about 0.1 percent of U.S. are affected by the issue.
The NHTSA has released a list of vehicles for which counterfeit airbags have been made, which includes certain model years of the Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Volt, Volkswagen Jetta and many other makes and models.
Unlike a normal recall, which is performed free of charge, dealer inspections to determine whether replacement airbags are counterfeit will cost owners $100 or more.
The counterfeiting of auto parts is a well-documented problem in the U.S., but the ersatz airbags pose an unusually large threat due to their great potential for bodily harm. Federal agents have arrested several individuals this year for producing counterfeit airbags and marketing them to repair shops as genuine components at a fraction of the normal retail price.
"Organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit and substandard air bags to consumers and suppliers with little to no regard to hazardous health and safety consequences," said ICE Director John Morton.
"We will continue to aggressively investigate criminal supply chains with our law enforcement and private industry partners and bring these criminals to justice."