Car Airbag Scams

Is your car’s airbag ready to deploy and possibly save your life in the event of an accident? Some have discovered their airbags are useless or missing when they need them most.

Dishonest mechanics do more than rip you off. When they fix your car with used, counterfeit or phony parts, they can endanger both you and your family. Airbags are a perfect example. When working as they’re designed to, airbags save lives. When they don’t deploy during an accident, due to failure, negilgence or fraud you could be severely injured or lose your life. Equipment failure is beyond the scope of this article. What we’re going to look at is the negligence and fraud of both car repair shop workers and even some vehicle owners that knowingly sell vehicles without functioning airbag systems.

A Breakdown of Airbag Scams

Airbag scams can be divided into several categories. These categories describe who is perpetrating the scam and when it occurs. The end result for the consumer, however, is the same. If any of these scams applies to your vehicle your life, or the lives of those you love, could be in danger.

  • The Phony Deploy Ploy. When your car is taken to the body shop, employees either deploy your airbags or physically pull them out to make it appear they deployed during an accident. Once the insurer has a chance to inspect the vehicle and an estimate for airbag replacement has been made, the shop’s mechanics replace your airbag with an inferior, cheap knockoff. In same cases, mechanics have replaced airbags with rags, beer cans, or cardboard. Either way the body shop sends your insurer a bill that includes the full price – sometimes as much as $2,000 – for replacing your car’s airbag.
  • The Airbag Switcheroo. While at the body shop, crooked mechanics remove un-deployed airbags and switch them with airbags that have been deployed to make it appear an accident caused them to inflate. Once the insurer makes a repair estimate, the shop puts the original airbag back into your car but bills your insurer for the entire cost of airbag replacement. Sometimes the mechanics won;t even bother replacing your airbag. They’ll just stuff garbage where your airbag should go and sell your airbag on the black market!
  • Used and salvaged vehicles. If you’re thinking about purchasing a new or salvaged vehicle, have a trusted mechanic inspect the airbags to make sure they’re both present and functioning. You may have a hard time tracing exactly what’s happened to the vehicle, who repaired it, and whether they tampered with your airbags. You may only have an unsafe used or cheap knockoff bag. Or just rags and beer cans. Salvaged vehicles damaged in a flood could have airbags, but they might not deploy in an accident if the module was ruined by water.

The High Price of Airbag Scams

Airbag scams can cost you more than the money it takes to replace them. If you fail to discover your airbag doesn’t work or has been replaced with junk, you and the lives of your passengers are in danger every time you use your car!

  • Lives & safety. Your life is in danger every time you step into a vehicle without good airbags. Your passengers’ lives also are at stake if you crash and the airbags don’t work right. Innocent drivers have died in crashes when crooked body shops stole their airbags. Are you and your friends or family members next?
  • Pay higher premiums. Airbag fraud also takes hard-earned money out of your pocket. The swindles raise auto premiums for every honest driver because insurance companies must pass the cost to all policyholders.

    Your own auto premiums also might go up even faster, since an airbag scam against you unfairly inflates claims against your own auto policy.

How you can help fight airbag scams

Unless you have X-ray vision, you can’t easily tell if a dishonest body shop tampered with the airbag while your vehicle was being repaired. The airbag compartment is tightly sealed, and hard for you to reach.

Same with that used or salvaged car you’re thinking of buying. If the vehicle’s history is altered, missing or incomplete, you don’t know if the airbag is safe – or if you even have one.

Get a mechanic. When in doubt, have an outside mechanic you trust check out your airbag. Make sure the mechanic is certified, or seek a reputable airbag technician.

Airbag problem red flags

  • Dashboard indicator light is on – Most newer cars have lights on the dash that tell you the status of your airbag system. If the light goes off, the airbags are usually in good working order. Be aware that there are ways to jimmy the lights so it appears all is well with your airbags even if they aren’t functioning.
  • There’s no airbag on your invoice – If you know your airbag deployed or needed replacing but there’s no indication a new one was purchased from a dealer or manufacturer, start asking questions and don’t let it go. Your life could be in jeapordy.
  • The airbag cover looks different – When you pick your car up from the shop, does anything seem odd about the airbag cover? Does it fit poorly? Is your vehicle’s logo missing or is the color just a little bit off? These could be signs your airbag has been stolen.
  • Consumer complaints – Check the BBB and the web for reports of consumer complaints. A scam this lucrative won’t have occured just once.
  • Vehicle history reports – Get a CarFax or AutoCheck vehicle history report to find out if the car’s been in a serious accident or suffered water damage. If so, have a trusted mechanic thoroughly inspect the vehicle and test its airbag system.


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