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Counterfeit Airbags Pose Surprise Hazard To Motorists

If the airbag in your car was replaced sometime in the past three years, and it wasn't done at an auto shop attached to a car dealership, there is a small possibility the part could be fake.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to issue an alert today telling consumers whether they should have their vehicles checked for the real McCoy. More than 100 types of vehicle airbags could be involved.

But the Detroit News points out these autos are at risk only under certain conditions: the vehicle had to have its airbag replaced within the last three years; and the airbag had to have been swapped out by an independent repair shop, not a dealership. People who bought airbags online could be affected.

The push to warn consumers came after federal agents arrested a North Carolina auto mechanic in August who had more than 1,500 counterfeit airbags, says the Associated Press. They linked the mechanic to a Chinese citizen based in Chattanooga, Tennessee who sold fake airbags made in China. Dai Zhensong was convicted last February and will spend more than three years in prison. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says Dai had an elaborate scheme:

"The counterfeit airbags were manufactured by purchasing genuine auto airbags, which were torn down and used to produce molds to manufacture the counterfeit airbags. Trademark emblems were purchased through Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW and other dealerships located in China and affixed to the counterfeit airbags.

"The counterfeit airbags were advertised on the Guangzhou Auto Parts website and sold for approximately $57 each, far below the value of an authentic airbag."

The government isn't aware of any deaths or injuries linked to fake airbags, says Reuters. The AP has a list of vehicles for which counterfeit airbags may be available:

The specific risk is limited. As the Wall Street Journal reports, "less than one-tenth of 1% of vehicles on the Road could be affected....that equates to less than 240,000 cars and trucks."

Bottom line: if you got your airbag replaced in the past three years, and you had an independent auto repair shop fix your car, have your vehicle inspected. If the airbag was replaced in the past three years, and you don't know where that repair was done, have your vehicle inspected. If you bought your airbag online during the past three years, have your vehicle inspected. The Journal says automakers will set up a hotline to answer consumers' calls.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.

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