DATE: May 5, 1994
FROM: John Womack -- Acting Chief Counsel, NHTSA
TO: Luis Carricaburu -- South Steering Specialists
ATTACHMT: Attached To Letter dated 1/1/94 EST From Luis Carricaburu to Mary Versailles (OCC-9613)
TEXT: Dear Mr. Carricaburu:
This responds to your letter asking whether it is legal to buy or sell a salvaged air bag which would be used to repair an automobile with a deployed air bag. Your letter explained that the salvaged air bag would be taken from an automobile sent to a recycling yard with its air bag intact.
I am enclosing two letters that explain legal obligations to replace air bags which have been deployed. The first letter, dated January, 19, 1990, is to Ms. Linda L. Conrad. The second letter, dated March 4, 1993, is to Mr. Robert A. Ernst. As explained in those letters, Federal law does not require replacement of a deployed air bag in a used vehicle. In addition, there is no Federal law that prohibits selling a used vehicle with an air bag that is inoperable because of a previous deployment. However, our agency strongly encourages dealers and repair businesses to replace deployed air bags whenever vehicles are repaired or resold, to ensure that the vehicles will continue to provide maximum crash protection for occupants. Moreover, a dealer or repair business may be required by state law to replace a deployed air bag, or be liable for failure to do so.
Your letter asks the additional question of whether, if a deployed air bag is replaced, Federal law prohibits use of a salvaged air bag as the replacement air bag. The answer to your question is no. As explained in the enclosed letters, the Safety Act does not require a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business to return a vehicle to compliance with a standard if a device or element of design has been "rendered inoperative" by another agent, such as a crash. Thus, Federal law does not regulate the manner in which a deployed air bag is replaced. However, state law may regulate the manner in which a deployed air bag is replaced.
I would like to emphasize that in order for a replacement air bag to provide protection to vehicle occupants, it is essential that the replacement be properly completed. For example, the entire air bag must be replaced, including such things as the crash
sensors, the inflation mechanism, and other electronic parts. Moreover, since air bags are designed for specific vehicles, taking into consideration such factors as the seats, steering column crush stroke force resistance, gauge array and location on instrument panel, location and nature of knee bolsters, and compartment acceleration responses in frontal crashes, only air bags which are designed for the vehicle in question should be used. After the air bags are replaced, it is important that the air bag readiness indicator be in good working order to alert the occupants of any future malfunction of the air bag system.
While great care must be taken in any air bag replacement, the use of a salvaged air bag raises additional safety issues. An air bag may have been rendered inoperable, for example, by damage in a low-speed crash, even if it has not been deployed. We would urge you to contact the vehicle or air bag manufacturer to determine whether and how a salvaged air bag could be inspected and/or tested to ensure that it is fully operable.
Finally, you may wish to consult a private attorney concerning the state law implications of using salvaged air bags for repairing automobiles, including possible tort liability.
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.