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,, 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.

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    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.


    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)


    2009-2011 TSX


    2006-2009 A3, A4, A6, A8, Q5, Q7


    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


    2010-2011 Lacrosse


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


    2012 Focus
    2005-2009 Mustang


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


    2007-2011 Elantra
    Not listed Genesis
    Not listed Sonata


    2007-2011 G35. EX35

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

    2012 Range Rover Evoque

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

    2004 Mazda 3
    2010-2012 Mazda 3

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


    Not listed Outlander


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


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

    2007-2010 SX4


    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


    2006-2010 Jetta


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