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Government to warn motorists tens of thousands may have counterfeit air bags

 

Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed, the Obama administration warned Wednesday.

Only 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet is believed to be affected, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement. But industry officials briefed by the government said tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags. NHTSA testing has shown most of the counterfeit bags don't inflate or fail to inflate properly. In at least one case, a counterfeit bag fired shards of metal shrapnel on impact, the agency said.

NHTSA is asking car owners to check a government website, www.Safercar.gov, for information on how to contact a call center established by auto manufacturers to learn if their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit air bags are known to have been made.

Read: How to avoid getting burned by counterfeit auto parts

No deaths or injuries have been tied to the counterfeit bags, NHTSA said. But it's unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, industry officials said.

NHTSA has compiled a list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit air bags may be available, but the agency cautioned that the full scope of the problem isn't clear yet and the list is expected to "evolve over time."

If a car is on the list and has had its air bags replaced during the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, NHTSA is asking owners to bring the vehicle into a dealership to be inspected at their own expense to determine whether the replaced air bags are counterfeit. Fees for checking out air bags could run $100 or more, industry officials said. Some types of cars have as many as eight air bags.

The counterfeit bags typically have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer's logo. Government investigators believe many of the bags come from China, an industry official said.

The bags are marketed to auto body shops as the real deal, industry officials said. Auto dealerships that operate their own body shops are usually required by their franchise agreements to buy their parts, including air bags, directly from automakers and therefore are unlikely to have installed counterfeit bags, industry officials said.

But only 37 percent of auto dealers have their own body shops, according to information on the National Association of Automobile Dealers' website. Many consumers whose vehicles have been damaged are referred by their insurance companies to auto body shops that aren't affiliated with an automaker.

Consumers who bought replacement air bags online or who have purchased a used car that may have its airbags replaced in the past three years were also asked to check NHTSA's list.

Counterfeiting of a wide variety of auto parts has long been a well-known problem, industry officials said. But recent incidents have escalated concern by government officials. In August, federal agents confiscated nearly 1,600 counterfeit air bags and arrested a North Carolina auto mechanic, according to a report by the Charlotte Observer. The mechanic was tied by federal officials to another counterfeit air bag case last year in Tennessee, the report said.

Last February, Dai Zhensong, a Chinese citizen, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in federal court in Chattanooga, Tenn., to 37 months in prison for trafficking in counterfeit air bags, according to a statement made at the time by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Zhensong was a part owner and manager of the international department of Guangzhou Auto Parts, which made a variety of auto parts, many of which were counterfeit, the statement said. In 2010, he traveled from China to Chattanooga to sell additional counterfeit air bags and other auto parts. The counterfeit air bags were manufactured by purchasing genuine auto air bags that were torn down and used to make molds to produce the counterfeit bags. Trademark emblems were purchased through Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW and other dealerships located in China and affixed to the counterfeit air bags. The air bags were advertised on the Guangzhou Auto Parts website and sold for approximately $50 to $70 each, far below the value of an authentic air bag, the statement said.

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Vehicles for which counterfeit air bags may be available, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The list is expected to evolve.
 

Make Model Year(s) Model(s)
 

Acura

2009-2011 TSX
 

Audi

2006-2009 A3, A4, A6, A8, Q5, Q7
 

BMW

2007-2011 X5, E70, E60, E61
2008-2010 5-Series, 528i, 535i
2004-2007 5-Series. 525i, 530, 535, E60, E61
2007-2011 E90, E91, Not listed E92, E93
2007-2011 X5, E70
2004-2007 525i, 530, 535
2011-2012 X3
 

Buick

2010-2011 Lacrosse
 

Chevrolet

2011-2012 Cruze
2006-2010 Aveo
2011-2012 Volt
2012 Camaro
 

Ford

2012 Focus
2005-2009 Mustang
 

Honda

2003-2012 Accord
2006-2011 Civic
2002-2011 CRV
2007-2011 Fit
2009-2011 Pilot
2009-2011 Insight
2009-2011 Crosstour
2011 Odyssey
 

Hyundai 

2007-2011 Elantra
Not listed Genesis
Not listed Sonata
 

Infiniti

2007-2011 G35. EX35
Kia

2010-2011 Soul/Forte
2004-2009 Spectra
Land Rover

2012 Range Rover Evoque
Lexus

2006-2011 IS250, IS350, IS-F
2003-2008 GX470
2007-2009 RX350
Not Listed ES350
Mazda

2004 Mazda 3
2010-2012 Mazda 3
Mercedes

2009-2011 C, GLK
2010-2011 E350, E550
2007-2008 S550
2006-2009 ML
2009-2010 GL, ML
 

Mitsubishi

Not listed Outlander
 

Nissan

1992-2002 Quest
2010-2011 Quest
2009-2011 Cube
2007-2011 Versa
2009-2010 Murano
Not listed Altima
 

Subaru

2008-2009 Forester
2008-2009 Imprezza
2008-2009 Outback
2010-2011 Legacy
Suzuki

2007-2010 SX4
 

Toyota

2002-2006 Camry
2012 Camry
2009-2011 Corolla, Matrix
2007-2011 Yaris
2004-2011 Highlander
2004-2011 Sienna
2004-2011 Tacoma
2010-2012 Prius
2003-2006 Tundra
2007-2011 Tundra
2003-2006 Sequoia
2003-2010 Land Cruiser
2004-2007 Highlander
2008-2010 Highlander
2004-2009 4Runner
2007-2009 Solara
2005-2011 RAV4
 

Volkswagen

2006-2010 Jetta
 

Volvo

Not listed XC60, XC70
Not listed V70, S60, S80