Safety of Airbags: Avoiding Airbag System Fraud
Experts like Kim Hazelbaker from the Highway Loss Data Institute recommend consumers like Noble, who are considering pre-owned vehicles, use all the available resources to check out a vehicle before buying. "We would advise purchasers of used cars to find out from Internet sites the vehicle history, to look at the safety equipment on the vehicle, and to have it inspected by a mechanic of their choice, not the seller's," says Hazelbaker.
Noble is now trying to find out who installed the dummy airbags in her car, but says now that she would "never buy another car without using CARFAX to check on the title and the history of the car–it reveals a lot."
Airbag Facts and StatisticsAirbag systems, considered supplemental restraint systems, are meant to be used in conjunction with seat belts. The California Highway Alliance recently found that 1 of out every 25 previously damaged vehicles inspected had phony or dummy airbags systems for the side airbags and passenger airbag, including:
Airbag system covers can be purchased without airbags. These covers are legally available to replace covers damaged during deployment; they can make the vehicle appear cosmetically the same whether or not an airbag is included beneath it. Airbag warning lights can even be reconnected and simulate normal airbag systems when one is not present. Unfortunately, only a handful of states have laws regulating airbag system replacement.
"Replacement airbag systems may range from $1,000 to $3,000,
maybe more if the dashboard shell or other dash components are damaged
by the force of a passenger side deployment. Dishonest mechanics can
generate a lot of money taking advantage of the unsuspecting
consumer," according to Gamache.
Airbag TheftA little known fact is that air bags are now the second-most stolen item from vehicles today. Estimates are that more than 75,000 air bags are stolen every year. Many of these stolen units are then resold to crooked mechanics or over the Internet for pennies on the dollar and used as replacement systems for deployed air bags.
Air bag systems are make/model specific. If a deployed air bag is replaced with a stolen or salvaged air bag from a vehicle that does not match the year/make/model of the repaired car, the air bag may not function properly.
How to Detect and Avoid Airbag Fraud
Turn on the ignition. The airbag indicator light should appear momentarily and then go out. If the indicator light remains on or flashes, this may indicate a problem with the airbag system.
If the airbag indicator light never comes on, then the airbag is probably missing and the bulb has been removed. Note that airbag indicator lights may not come on if the previous owner has had an on-off switch installed. If you face this situation, ask the seller or dealer to provide a copy of the NHTSA letter authorizing the switch, and have the airbag turned back on.
We recommend that you take the vehicle to a certified airbag mechanic for inspection prior to purchase to ensure a properly working airbag system.
Visit www.carfax.com/airbag to check for airbag deployments that have been reported to CARFAX.