WASHINGTON (AP) — Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed, the Obama administration warned Wednesday.
Only 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet is believed to be affected, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement. But industry officials briefed by the government said tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags. NHTSA testing has shown most of the counterfeit bags don't inflate or fail to inflate properly. In at least one case, a counterfeit bag fired shards of metal shrapnel on impact, the agency said.
NHTSA is asking car owners to check a government website, www.Safercar.gov, for information on how to contact a call center established by auto manufacturers to learn if 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, NHTSA said. But it's unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, industry officials said.
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 bring the vehicle into a dealership to be inspected 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.
The counterfeit bags typically have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer's logo. Government investigators believe many of the bags come from China, an industry official said.
The bags are marketed to auto 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, industry officials said.