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Mr. Joey Ferrari Director Technical Sales Grant Products 700 Allen Avenue Glendale, CA 91201; Mr. Joey Ferrari Director Technical Sales Grant Products 700 Allen Avenue Glendale
CA 91201;

"Dear Mr. Ferrari: This responds to your letter of August 31, 1993 concerning aftermarket steering wheels. Your questions concerned replacement of the steering wheel in a vehicle equipped with an air bag with an aftermarket steering wheel manufactured by your company. The steering wheel you manufacture is not equipped with an air bag. Before answering your questions, some background information may be helpful. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (the Safety Act) to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards that apply to the manufacture and sale of new motor vehicles and new items of motor vehicle equipment. NHTSA has exercised this authority to issue Standard No. 208, Occupant Crash Protection. Among other things, Standard No. 208 requires that passenger cars be equipped with automatic crash protection. Light trucks will also be required to provide automatic crash protection beginning with the 1995 model year. Vehicles equipped with automatic crash protection protect their occupants by means that require no action by vehicle occupants. Compliance with the automatic crash protection requirements of Standard No. 208 is determined in a dynamic crash test. That is, a vehicle must comply with specified injury criteria, as measured on a test dummy, when tested by this agency in a 30 mph barrier crash test. At this time, manufacturers are not required to use a specific method of automatic crash protection to meet the requirements of Standard No. 208. The two types of automatic crash protection currently offered on new passenger cars are automatic safety belts (which help to assure belt use) and air bags (which supplement safety belts and offer some protection even when safety belts are not used). However, a new Federal statutory requirement makes air bags mandatory in all passenger cars and light trucks by the late 1990's. Your specific questions are addressed below. Where more than one question concerns a common issue, they are addressed by a single response. The responses to your questions explain: (1) Federal law does prevent a repair shop from removing an operating air bag, (2) Federal law does not require a vehicle to have a usable air bag for its life, prevent a private individual from removing the air bag in the vehicle, require a usable air bag before a used vehicle can be sold, or require replacement of an air bag deployed in an accident, (3) State law may address these issues, and (4) our agency strongly discourages owners from removing or modifying the safety systems in their vehicles, and urges the replacement of these systems when they are not functional, to ensure that the vehicles will continue to provide maximum crash protection for occupants. 1. If a vehicle is originally equipped with an air bag, must it have an operable air bag system for its entire useful life? 2. If a repair shop removes an operating air bag system and replaces it with a Grant product not having an air bag: A. Is this legal or illegal? B. If illegal which party is liable? 3. If a private individual removes an operating air bag system and replaces it with a Grant product not having an air bag: A. Is this legal or illegal? B. If illegal which party is liable? 6. Upon resale of a vehicle from the first owner (individual) to a second or subsequent owner, must the vehicle have an operable air bag system as originally equipped? The Safety Act prohibits any person from manufacturing, selling, or importing any new motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicle or equipment item is in conformity with all applicable safety standards. However, the Safety Act also provides that once a vehicle is sold and delivered to its first retail purchaser, the vehicle is no longer required by Federal law to comply with the safety standards. However, States have authority to require that used vehicles have certain equipment installed and functioning for the vehicles to be registered or sold. After the first retail purchase of a vehicle, a provision in Federal law that affects a vehicle's continuing compliance with an applicable safety standard is the 'render inoperative' provision of the Safety Act which provides that: No manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business shall knowingly render inoperative, in whole or in part, any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle ... in compliance with an applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standard. In the case of a vehicle equipped with air bags pursuant to Standard No. 208, this section would prohibit any manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business from removing, disabling, or otherwise 'rendering inoperative' the air bags. Any violation of this 'render inoperative' provision would subject the violator to a potential civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. Please note that the 'render inoperative' provision does not apply to modifications vehicle owners make to their vehicles. I would like to caution anyone considering removal of an air bag to contact the vehicle manufacturer concerning the proper procedure for any air bag removal. Improper removal of an air bag could cause it to deploy and injure the person. 4. After an accident in which the air bag was deployed, must a repair shop or individual replace the air bag and/or system so that it is again operable as originally equipped? 5. After an accident in which the air bag was deployed, can a repair shop or individual replace the air bag with a Grant product not having an air bag? The 'render inoperative' provision does not impose an affirmative duty on repair shops to replace equipment that was previously removed by someone else, or to repair equipment that was damaged in a crash. Thus, a repair shop could replace the steering wheel after an accident that deployed the air bag with a steering wheel that was not equipped with an air bag. However, despite the absence of any requirement in Federal law, repair shops may still be required by State law to replace deployed air bags, or they may be liable for failing to do so. 7. If we have a potential liability exposure for someone using our products to replace an original air bag, what do we need to do to limit this exposure? We suggest that you consult a private attorney familiar with the law regarding potential liability in tort for an answer to this question. While such issues are beyond this agency's area of expertise, we do note that every State provides for some degree of civil liability for consumer products and repair work. As a final note, and in addition to the legal considerations, it is NHTSA's strong policy that air bags not be removed, and that air bags always be replaced following deployment, unless the vehicle is to be junked. While air bags are in some respects 'supplemental' to safety belts, in that the air bags provide additional protection, the air bags are nevertheless vitally important to the vehicle's overall capability to protect occupants in a crash. Air bags provide some protection, even if the safety belt is not worn, and the safety belt system is designed to work in conjunction with the air bag in serious frontal crashes. Additionally, the consumer information available to a subsequent purchaser of the vehicle would identify it as one equipped with air bags. The purchaser may well expect a used car to include the safety equipment that was provided by the original manufacturer. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other questions, please contact Mary Versailles of my staff at this address or by phone at (202) 366-2992. Sincerely, John Womack Acting Chief Counsel";