Fake and salvaged air bags put New Yorkers' lives at risk

Drivers urged to take precautions to avoid auto crash injuries

WASHINGTON, DC (10/21/2015)(readMedia)-- NEW YORK, N.Y., October 21, 2015 - Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's recent crackdown on uncertified auto airbags is a good reminder that drivers should protect themselves from dishonest auto repair shops that cut corners on replacing airbags.

The New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud praised the attorney general for stoping a Binghamton, N.Y. repair shop after it had sold possibly hundreds of untested airbags.

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.

Dishonest body shops have pulled good airbags from crashed cars to make it seem like the bag deployed during the accident. The mechanic then inserted a cheap knockoff bag after the insurer finished the estimate for replacing the original airbag.

Or worse, mechanics have stuffed old rags or cardboard into the empty airbag compartment. The body shop billed the insurer full price for "replacing" the bag - up to $2,000 or more - even though the original was long gone.

Auto owners are encouraged to protect themselves by:

  • Making sure the dashboard airbag light comes on for a few seconds when the car is started, especially if the car was repaired recently. This signals that the airbag system is working properly. If the light stays on, starts flashing or doesn't flash on at all, the airbag system probably isn't working.
  • After the car has been serviced, check the body shop's invoice to make sure the airbag came from a legitimate car manufacturer, dealer or recycler.
  • Before replacing an airbag, check if the body shop has a history of consumer complaints. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Deal only with a registered shop. Make sure there's a green and white sign that says "Registered State of New York Motor Vehicle Repair Shop" outside the shop. The shop also should have a valid New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration certificate inside.
  • When shopping for a used vehicle, get its history report from commercial services. If the report shows the vehicle was in a major crash or flood, have a certified mechanic or airbag technician check it out before buying.

An airbag is a vital safety device that can mean the difference between life and death. Consumers need to know their rights in dealing with repair shops. Have a complaint? Contact the DMV Vehicle Safety Consumer Services Section at 1-518-474-8943 or download a complaint form.

NYAAIF is an alliance of 104 insurance companies in New York. NYAAIF was created in 1999 to educate consumers about the cost of insurance fraud and help consumers avoid becoming victims. For more information, visit www.fraudny.org.