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Counterfeit air bags can do more harm than good in a crash

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a press release Wednesday alerting motorists to a dangerous defect that could affect thousands of cars in the United States. Counterfeit airbags, some of them faulty, have been unwittingly installed in some car models by repair shops.

Last month NHTSA tested 11 counterfeit air bags with terrifying results. 10 of them failed to inflate properly and perform their function in a simulated crash environment. One bag exploded, shooting flames and metal shrapnel at the crash test dummy instead of inflating.

These phony air bags pose the greatest risk to motorists who have had airbags replaced at a shop other than their dealership in the past three years. Auto dealerships are typically required to use parts supplied by the manufacturer and are unlikely to come across counterfeit parts. But many dealerships don’t have their own shops and insurance companies frequently refer drivers to independent body shops after an accident.

Only about 0.1 percent of cars on the road are models for which counterfeit airbags are known to exist, but that could add up to tens of thousands of cars with the potentially deadly defect.

NHTSA has compiled a list of models that may be affected but have cautioned that the list will likely grow over time as new counterfeit bags are discovered. If your car is listed and has had airbags replaced in the past three years somewhere other than a dealership, NHTSA recommends getting them checked and potentially replaced.

People injured in an accident involving a defective vehicle may be able to bring a claim against the product’s manufacturer or distributor. An attorney experienced in product liability matters can help evaluate the case and pursue appropriate damages.

Source: ABC News, “Counterfeit Air Bags Called ‘Extreme Safety Risk,’” Joan Lowy, Oct. 10, 2012

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