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Released: January 24, 2011
Help Desk FAQ
What is air bag fraud?
Air bags are extremely important to your safety. They also are very expensive to replace after they have been deployed in an accident. Rather than pay the $1,000 to $3,000 to replace an air bag, some auto sellers and auto body shops are cutting corners and putting drivers in danger.
In some cases, an auto dealer sells a used car with used (previously deployed) air bags or no air bags at all. In other cases, a car owner who has been in an accident receives their auto back from the repair shop without new air bags installed, or with a dummy system installed, even though the shop charged the customer or insurance company for one or more new air bags.
It’s difficult for consumers to tell if an air bag has been replaced or not. To protect yourself, do all of the following:
- If you’re buying a used car, order a vehicle history report from a service such as CARFAX or AutoCheck, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). Report content varies, but each of these databases collects information on one or more of the following: whether a vehicle has been totaled (wrecked to the point that the insurance company considered the vehicle a total loss), in a flood, stolen, salvaged, or if the air bags ever deployed. Have any used car you’re considering inspected by a trusted technician and body shop before you agree to buy it—even if it has a clean vehicle history report.
- Look for signs of air bag deployment or tampering in the steering wheel and dashboard area. (Do not open the air bag compartment yourself.)
- Have the air bags checked if the air bag light blinks or stays on; if the light never comes on, as it should, briefly upon starting the engine; or the seat belts don’t retract normally.
- Patronize only reputable businesses. Get referrals for dealers, mechanics and body shops, and check their complaint history with your local or state consumer protection agency. Use a mechanic or auto body repair professional certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
- Check the invoice to verify the repair shop purchased the air bag directly from the manufacturer. (This ensures the air bag is new, and will work correctly in your vehicle.)
- Ask to inspect the air bag before it’s installed. It should be in a sealed container from the manufacturer.
- Get a second opinion if you have any doubts.
- If you suspect fraud, contact your state’s attorney general (find contact information at the National Association of Attorneys General, your local consumer protection agencies, and, if the air bag fraud was committed as part of an insurance claim, the National Insurance Crime Bureau or 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).
- For more information about automobile issues, also check out the non-profit Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS).
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