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Consumer Alert: NHTSA Alerts Used Car Owners, Buyers of Dangerous, Substandard Replacement Air Bags

Three killed, two injured by faulty, cheap, imported aftermarket air bag inflators

| Washington, DC

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urges used car buyers and owners  to be aware of cheap, substandard replacement air bag inflators that can cause death or serious injury in a crash. In the last year, three people have been killed and two people have suffered life-altering, disfiguring injuries due to these faulty aftermarket replacement air bag inflators.

In all five cases, the vehicles had previously been involved in a crash, and their original equipment air bags were replaced with defective, substandard inflators, in most cases confirmed to have been manufactured overseas. These dangerous aftermarket parts malfunctioned in subsequent crashes, sending large metal fragments into drivers’ chests, necks, eyes and faces, killing or severely injuring drivers in otherwise survivable crashes. 

These suspect replacement parts are often manufactured by foreign companies with little to no reputation of quality manufacturing or experience, sold at prices far below the cost of quality genuine equipment, ordered online and shipped to the United States, and installed by those other than reputable repair shops or manufacturer dealerships. 

If consumers own or are considering the purchase of a used vehicle, NHTSA urges them to learn the vehicle’s history and ensure the vehicle has genuine air bag inflators. If their vehicle has one of these inadequate replacement parts, it could kill or critically injure them in a crash. Additionally, these inflators may deploy partially or too slowly, failing to protect an occupant’s head from striking the steering wheel or dashboard. 

This advisory does not affect owners of new vehicles or those who already know the full and complete history of their used vehicles. 

NHTSA advises consumers to: 

  • Obtain a vehicle history report before purchasing a used vehicle or if they have already purchased a used vehicle and do not know its history. If the vehicle has been in a reported crash where the air bag deployed, they should visit a reputable independent mechanic or dealership for an air bag inspection to ensure the parts are genuine.  
  • Do business with reputable independent mechanics and manufacturer dealerships. When considering a purchase from a private seller, obtain a vehicle history report and have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. 
  • Ask about the replacement parts when having a vehicle serviced, including the brand and sourcing of the parts. 
  • Buy with caution when looking at automotive parts online from overseas retailers or sold at prices well below competitors. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it likely is — and it could be deadly. 

If a consumer suspects they may have one of these faulty, substandard replacement inflators, they should consult their brand’s dealership or a reputable mechanic to determine if these parts need to be replaced. If they have a vehicle with one of these suspect inflators, they should contact their local Homeland Security Investigations office or FBI field office to report it, or submit an online complaint to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.

Owners may also contact NHTSA online or by calling the agency’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time.

NHTSA 202-366-9550