Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed, according to a warning from the Obama administration last month.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says only 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet is believed to be affected, approximately 250,000 cars on the road today. Industry officials briefed by the government said that tens of thousands of car owners could be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags. Last month, NHTSA conducted tests on 11 counterfeit bags, of which ten did not inflate and failed to inflate properly. In one test, a counterfeit bag shot out flames and shards of metal shrapnel at a crash dummy rather than inflating, according to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who showed a video of the test at a news conference. Strickland refers to the problem as “an extreme safety risk.”
NHTSA is asking car owners to check the government website, www.Safercar.gov, for information on how to contact a call center, which was established by auto manufacturers to determine whether their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit air bags are known to have been made.
No deaths or injuries have been tied to the counterfeit bags, according to the NHTSA. Industry officials say that it is unclear whether the police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one.
NHTSA has compiled a list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit air bags may be available, but the agency cautioned that the full scope of the problem isn’t clear yet and the list is expected to “evolve over time.”
If a car is on the list and has had its air bags replaced during the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, NHTSA is asking owners to take the vehicle into a dealership for inspection (at their own expense) to determine whether the replaced air bags are counterfeit. Fees for checking out air bags could run $100 or more, industry officials said. Some types of cars have as many as eight air bags. Consumers that purchased replacement air bags online or those who purchased a used vehicle that may have had its air bags replaced within the past three years, should also check NHTSA’s list.
Officials at NHTSA made it clear that the air bag problem is not the result of a manufacturing defect by automakers and is not a recall. The counterfeit air bags typically have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer’s logo. Government investigators believe that many of the air bags come from China, an industry official said. The bags are marketed to auto repair and body shops as the real deal, industry officials said. Auto dealerships that operate their own body shops are usually required by their franchise agreements to buy their parts, including air bags, directly from automakers and therefore, are unlikely to have installed counterfeit bags, according to industry officials.
According to information on the National Association of Automobile Dealership’s website, only 37 percent of auto dealers have their own body shops. Often, consumers are referred to auto body shops not affiliated with an automaker, by their insurance companies when their vehicles are damaged.
Counterfeiting of a wide variety of auto parts has been a well-known problem for a long time, industry officials said. Government officials report escalating concerns regarding recent incidents of fraud. In August, federal agents confiscated close to 1,600 counterfeit air bags and arrested a North Carolina auto mechanic, according to a report by the Charlotte Observer. The mechanic was tied to another counterfeit air bag case last year in Tennessee, the report said.
Last February, a Chinese citizen pleaded guilty and was sentenced in federal court in Chattanooga, Tennessee to 37 months in prison for trafficking in counterfeit air bags, according to a statement made at the time by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He was a part owner of an international auto parts company, which made a variety of auto parts, many of which were counterfeit, according to the statement. In 2010, he traveled from China to Chattanooga to sell additional counterfeit air bags and other auto parts. The counterfeit air bags were manufactured by purchasing genuine auto air bags, which were torn down and used to make molds to produce the counterfeit air bags. Trademark emblems were purchased through Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW and other dealerships located in China and affixed to the counterfeit air bags. The air bags were advertised on his website and sold for approximately $50 to $70 each, which is far below the value of an authentic air bag, the statement reported.
Law enforcement authorities have seized about 2,500 counterfeit air bags so far this year. Investigators are in progress in several locations around the country, according to John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the following makes of vehicles that may have counterfeit air bags are: Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Kia, Land Rover, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitshubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. The list is expected to evolve. You can check the website (listed above) for more specifics.
Do you think his sentence was fair? We will never know how many accident victims suffered because of his negligence. People purchase vehicles based on their safety features in the event of an accident. Consumers depend on the air bags to protect them and potentially save their lives, as opposed to the air bags shooting out flames and metal shrapnel. He made his living based on greed, dishonesty and deceit.
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