Consumers and repair professionals were alerted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other federal agencies to what the government describes as a growing motor vehicle-related safety hazard — counterfeit air bags sold as replacement parts by organized criminals.

The full scope and scale of the problem is not yet known, and no injuries or deaths have been reported, NHTSA said in a statement. However, the agency said its testing shows that counterfeit products, which it says are becoming more prevalent, are consistently subject to malfunction ranging from nondeployment to expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.

Only vehicles that have had an air bag replaced within the last three years by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership are at risk of having counterfeit air bags, NHTSA said, estimating that the issue affects less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet. The agency has so far identified 21 makes and a number of models of vehicles for which counterfeit air bags may be an issue.

The Alliance of Automobile manufacturers said all owners of vehicles that may be at risk should contact their dealer, repair shop, or insurance company to find out if certified parts were used during repairs. Owners of used vehicles may be able to identify counterfeit parts from a commercial website, such as Carfax, the Alliance said.

Counterfeit air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts, so repair shops may not even be aware that products were knock-offs during installation, the Alliance and NHTSA said.

“It’s critical that vehicle owners work with their automotive dealers and repair professionals to ensure they use the appropriate, original equipment parts in the event they need to replace their air bag,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in a statement. Carfax also issued a statement saying it has posted a free online tool that consumers can use to check for prior air bag deployment reports sent to the company.

If you or someone you know has been seriously injured and you suspect that a counterfeit airbag could be the cause, contact us today

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