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NHTSA warns about counterfeit air bags thata could fail to inflate in crash

October 12, 2012
Millions of cars in the U.S. repaired after collisions could have counterfeit air bags that may not inflate properly in an accident, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Oct. 10.
NHTSA officials believe “tens of thousands of counterfeit air bags” may be involved. Most, if not all, of the replacement safety devices were made in China. NHTSA issued a consumer safety advisory that warns vehicle owners and body shops to their dangers.
The NHTSA is not aware of any deaths or injuries connected to counterfeit air bags.
“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.
NHTSA released a list of nearly 100 vehicles that could have counterfeit air bags. It includes certain model years of the Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Volt, Ford Focus, Toyota Prius, Volkswagen Jetta and Nissan Altima.
The agency emphasized that of the millions of vehicles on the road, the vast majority does not have a problem. NHTSA said it didn’t know the full scope and scale of the problem, but believes “this issue affects less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet.”
Only vehicles that have had an air bag replaced within the past three years by a repair shop that is not part of a new-car dealership may be at risk, NHTSA said. Air bags that automakers install on the assembly line are not at risk, nor are those installed by new-car dealerships.
Consumers whose vehicles have been in a crash and had their air bags replaced by a repair shop that is not part of a new-car dealership within the past three years — or who have purchased a replacement air bag online — should contact automakers’ call centers to have their vehicle inspected and their air bags replaced if necessary.
Dealers and automakers — who held conference calls with the NHTSA ahead of the public announcement — are bracing for an influx of worried owners. “Dealers will play a critical role in identifying and removing suspected counterfeits as well as easing the fears of consumers not affected by this issue,” said Frank Borris, who directs the NHTSA’s Defects Investigation office. “This issue can’t wait and we will be moving very quickly.”
It’s not clear how much a dealer inspection will cost, but it will likely be $100 or more, auto officials said. Unlike for a safety recall, owners must pay to get their air bags inspected.