Government issues warning about fake air bags installed in cars

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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ROCK HILL, S.C. - The air bag is probably the single most important safety feature in your car. Some newer vehicles now have as many as six to eight of them, protecting the driver and passengers in a crash. 

However, a new government warning about air bags could impact thousands of drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into complaints about fake air bags installed as replacements in vehicles after an accident.

The air bags are cheaply made and sold by criminals, largely online. They fail to deploy in a crash, or explode, sending flames and shrapnel into the face of the person in the vehicle.

Click here to see the accompanying video for this story to see a counterfeit bag being set off.

The agency estimates that one in a thousand vehicles on the road could have a counterfeit air bag. Most of them were installed within the last three years, and affect all the major makes and models of vehicles.

"It's a big danger," said Buffie Garner with Tom's Body Shop in Rock Hill.

The shop installs roughly 10 new air bags every month. They get them only from the manufacturers.

However, it can cost from $300 to $1,000 to replace a single air bag. Garner said customers do sometimes ask for a used one, to save money.

"They ask, but we don't do it. There are liability issues and safety issues," she said.

Several shops and car dealers told Channel 9 they would charge just under $100 to inspect an airbag and make sure it's legitimate. Any repair of replacement costs would be added to that.

Garner suggested checking with your insurance company to find out where the air bag was bought.

"If it's been done by an insurance company, pull your insurance company's paper work. Go back and find the repair place, and ask them to pull the invoices of where the air bag was purchased," she said.

No deaths or injuries have been tied to the faulty air bags. 

For more information, visit safercar.gov.

For more information on the counterfeit airbags, click here.