Drivers warned to have vehicles checked for fake devices

TOWSON, Md. - They are your last line of defense in a car crash---you air bags, and they're expensive to replace.

"The steering wheel airbag... $714.  The one for the instrument panel on the passenger side is $837.  That's just for the part.  That's the air bag module---the actual thing that comes out," said Mark Linthicum from his Towson repair shop.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns organized criminals are counterfeiting air bags and selling them in this country for just a fraction of those costs---typically less than $100.

Testing has shown some only partially inflate during a crash, some fail to deploy altogether and in some cases, they can send metal shrapnel through the vehicle.

Reputable repair shops, like Richard's body & Fender Repair, will use imitation bumpers or fenders to save the customer money, but they won't look for bargains when it comes to air bags.

"I'd only ever use a factory air bag, brand new in the package from the dealer, and the main reason being---if they want a used one... and they're out there on the market, I could order one today and have it here tomorrow," said Linthicum, "The problem is I have no idea of the condition of the air bag."

The fake air bags look almost identical to factory equipment and the counterfeiters even use company insignias of the major car companies.
Federal regulators say if you've replaced your air bags in the last three years and it wasn't through a dealer or if you purchased equipment on-line, you should have them checked out.
Linthicum says if you've recently purchased a newer model used car, you may also want to check the air bags.
"My guess is they have no idea if the air bag has ever been deployed.  They probably have no idea if it has one of these imitation ones in there.  I would say to anybody who buys a used car... it would probably cost them around $100 to take it to the dealer to have that checked out."

The feds suggest you call your respective auto manufacturer to have your vehicle inspected at your own expense to see if you need your air bags replaced.
At this point, they estimate the fake bags may affect only one vehicle out of every thousand or less.

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