Trafficking in junk airbags earned a salvaged-car dealer an unwanted date with New York’s AG. And a brisk rebuke from insurers in the state.
The incident also makes you wonder … How many people are driving with unsafe and potentially death-dealing airbags tucked into their steering columns and passenger areas?
Don’s Automotive Mall illegally sold possibly hundreds of recycled airbags pulled from salvaged cars, the AG charges. Don’s denies all, yet agreed to test all salvaged airbags before selling them. A $12,500 fine drove home the point.
Those bags have filtered throughout the U.S. Nobody knows where they all went. Drivers and passengers could face injuries and death if the salvaged bags don’t deploy in a crash.
Luckless motorists have died in unrelated crashes when crooked body shops stole their airbags during repairs. Cheaters have filled airbag compartments with beer cans, sneakers, Styrofoam peanuts and other stuff. Great protection.
New York insurers rapidly responded to the AG’s agreement, launching a statewide news campaign.
“The flood of unsafe knockoff airbags places drivers and passengers at risk of severe injury during auto crashes. Tens of thousands of unsafe airbags are believed to be in circulation across the U.S. In fact, several injuries and deaths have been attributed to knockoff airbags,” the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud said.
Salvaged cars have been dunked in floodwaters, soaked by storms, reclaimed from crashes. An airbag module soaked by grimy floodwater and sludge, for instance, is a lousy bet to open in a collision.
The airbag could be a party balloon, for all the protection it gives.
A Chinese national was busted several years ago. His factory in China churned out knockoff bags cleverly disguised to look like real ones made by mainstream carmakers.
Dai Zhensong tried to flood the U.S. with hundreds of thousands of junky airbags. Some exploded like hand grenades and shot shrapnel into crash dummies when the feds tested them.
Like the bags from the Don’s salvage firm, nobody knows how many of Zhensong’s knockoffs are lurking inside vehicles. Fortunately, his scam was dismantled and he was handed three years in federal prison.
Frontline airbag specialists have privately told me they see junk airbags all the time.
The New York Alliance launches statewide outreach programs to educate consumers about insurance cons — and how people can defend against predators.
The group offers common-sense airbag advice:
- Make sure your dashboard airbag light comes on for a few seconds when the car starts — especially if the car was repaired recently. If the light stays on, starts flashing or doesn’t flash on at all, the airbag system probably isn’t working;
- After your car was serviced, check the body shop’s invoice to make sure the airbag came from a legitimate car manufacturer, dealer or recycler;
- Deal only with a registered New York shop. It must have a green and white sign that says “Registered State of New York Motor Vehicle Repair Shop.” The shop also must have a valid Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration certificate; and
- When shopping for a used vehicle, get its history report from commercial services. If you discover the vehicle was in a major crash or flood, have a certified mechanic or airbag technician check it out before buying.
Wise words — whether you live in Rochester, Chicago, Walla Walla or Waco.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.