America’s top automotive safety agency warned US drivers Wednesday that they may have counterfeit and defective air bags installed in their cars if the bags have been replaced in the past three years.
The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a safety advisory to alert car owners and repair shops that tens of thousands of drivers may have vehicles with fake air bags that were sold to suppliers.
“While these air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts – including bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers – NHTSA testing showed consistent malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the air bag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment,” an NHTSA statement said.
While the agency said that only 0.1 percent of the US vehicle fleet is believed to be affected, the full scope of the problem isn’t revealed yet and is expected to “evolve over time.”
The NHTSA added that it is not aware of any deaths or injuries connected to the counterfeit air bags, and that it is working with other government agencies to put a stop to these criminal supply chains.
“Organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit and substandard airbags to consumers and suppliers with little to no regard to hazardous health and safety consequences,” said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
A Chinese citizen pleaded guilty in Tennessee earlier this year to trafficking counterfeit air bags, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison, according to the Associated Press.
Car owners can check a government website, www.safercar.gov, for information on how to contact a call center established by automakers to find out if their vehicle model might be among those that had a fake air bag installed.
Fees for inspecting air bags could run to $100 or more, industry officials said.