Mr. Richard Korytowski
Advantage Autobody Parts
3317 E. Jefferson Blv.
Grand Prairie, Texas 75051
Dear Mr. Korytowski:
This responds to your letter asking about the implications of used car dealers selling vehicles which have not had their supplemental restraint systems (air bags) replaced after an accident. I apologize for the delay in our response. You asked whether "full disclosure" of the fact that the air bag is not operating or has not been replaced, and "accepting [the buyer's] signature of being aware of the vehicle's condition and faults-- it is sole responsibility of such a buyer to notify his or hers insurance company or install SRS on one's own without any further legal implications of the seller, regardless of the buyer's action."
As discussed below, Federal law does not require replacement of a deployed air bag in a used vehicle, or prevent a used car dealer from selling such a vehicle. However, this subject area could be covered by State law.
By way of background information, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment. One of the standards we have issued is Standard No. 208, "Occupant Crash Protection" (49 CFR 571.208). Manufacturers install air bags in passenger cars and light trucks as one method of complying with the occupant protection requirements of Standard No. 208.
While the Federal motor vehicle safety standards apply only to new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle equipment, Federal law does limit the modifications that can be made by certain businesses to used vehicles. Manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and repair businesses are prohibited from "knowingly making inoperative" any device or element of a design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable safety standard (49 U.S.C. 30122).
While the "make inoperative" provision would prohibit a dealer or repair business from knowingly disabling safety equipment, such
as an air bag, installed in compliance with an applicable safety standard, the provision does not impose an affirmative duty on dealers or other persons to repair equipment on a used vehicle that was damaged in a crash. Therefore, Federal law does not require replacement of a deployed air bag in a used vehicle.
Despite the absence of any requirement in Federal law, State law may require replacement of deployed air bags. You may wish to contact the State of Texas to learn if there are any applicable laws or regulations. Additionally, you may wish to consult a private attorney with respect to potential liability of a repair facility for failure to replace an air bag after a crash, or of a used car dealer for selling such a vehicle.
In addition to the legal considerations, I note that, for vehicles being repaired for road-use, NHTSA has long recommended the repair, restoration, or replacement of all safety systems that may have been damaged in a crash. These systems include the safety belts, air bag systems (including sensors), built-in child restraints, and other vehicle systems such as brakes, accelerator controls, transmission gear and "park" function, etc. If you would like guidance as to which vehicle systems may require inspection or repair after a crash, we suggest that you contact the selling dealer, zone representative, and/or manufacturer of the vehicle in question.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact Edward Glancy of my staff at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel