When buying a used car, you likely look at the exterior of the car and check to make sure that there aren’t any major problems. You will probably also look at the mileage and take the car for a test drive to see how it handles.
But what about checking the airbags?
The used car that you are thinking of purchasing could be a death trap, if the airbags aren’t working or haven’t been replaced.
A recent article [article no longer available from source] in the News Miner reports that an alarming number of cars may have faulty or missing airbags: “As many as 250,000 counterfeit air bags may have been used to replace deployed ones, according to the federal government.”
Airbags are folded up into compartments in the steering wheel (on the driver’s side) and dashboard (on the passenger’s side). Depending on the make and model of your car, there may also be airbags in the side of your car. In the event of a crash, airbags on both the driver’s and passenger’s side should inflate, preventing the car’s occupants from hitting the steering wheel or dashboard.
Once used, airbags can’t be “fixed”: they are a one-time use safety feature that must be replaced. They’re also expensive, which is part of the reason that airbag fraud occurs. Many crooked auto dealers and repair shops will bill the insurance company or the customer for the airbag (which often costs several thousand dollars) but never purchase and install it—pocketing the cash instead.
When airbags are missing or faulty, drivers and passengers have no protection in a crash. The consequences of airbag fraud can be deadly.
According to an article by NPR, airbag fraud has claimed the lives of an unknown number of victims. In 2003, the article reports, a nursing assistant was killed in a crash as a result of airbag fraud. “It turned out that the air bag in her used Toyota Corolla hadn’t been replaced after a previous accident. Instead, the dealer who sold her the car had cut out the air bag and created a fake cover for the dashboard.”
Other victims of airbag fraud have found that the airbag compartment was filled with packing peanuts, newspaper, or cigarette cartons or that the used airbag was replaced with a stolen or junkyard airbag. Still others have found nothing at all in the compartment.
If you or someone you know is in the market for a used car, we urge you to check the airbags before signing on the dotted line. How? Just turn on the car. If the airbag indicator light doesn’t come on—or stays on—there could be a problem with the airbag. Also, check the vehicle history report for any accidents. The best way to find out if the airbags are installed properly is to ask a reputable mechanic to inspect the car. Sure, these steps will take extra time—but the effort you make now could save your life later.
If you’ve already bought a used car and are the victim of airbag fraud, contact a Fairbanks, Alaska attorney to learn what your legal options are.