A warning is out about an extreme safety risk in a lot of cars. The government wants to alert drivers about counterfeit airbags.
When a person is in an accident, their life typically depends on their seatbelt and their airbags. But now the government is issuing a warning to all drivers, one that everyone needs to pay close attention to.
At Sinclair auto care service in Lee's Summit, MO, there's a golden rule regarding if a customer comes in and needs a new airbag.
"We always purchase airbags through the manufacturers," Derek Sanders with Sinclair said.
But there are plenty of trusting customers elsewhere in the country who aren't as fortunate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is issuing a warning saying thousands of drivers may be unknowingly driving a car with counterfeit airbags - airbags from overseas sold cheap to auto repair shops across the country.
"If you probably purchase aftermarket or used, you don't know how they're going to operate," Sanders said.
Video shows how some of the counterfeit airbags do operate and it shows everything from barely deploying at all to an airbag exploding on impact, bursting metal and plastic shrapnel all over what would be the driver's face.
"It could put the owners of those vehicles at serious risk for injury when those airbags either fail to deploy or deploy in the wrong manger," Larry Gamache with Carfax said.
Anyone who's had an airbag replaced in the last three years should get it checked. At this point, no serious injuries or deaths have been reported, but officials fear that could change.
People worried about their car can always go to Carfax's website and pop in their VIN. If the airbags on the car they're driving have been deployed in an accident, there's a good chance they'll have a record of it. But officials advised that people don't count on Carfax alone.
"If you have concerns about your airbag, take it to a trusted mechanic and have them inspect your safety system. Only a mechanic can tell you whether your airbag system is performing properly," Gamache said.
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, 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, 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.
There are dozens of cars already on the government list to get check out and they said that list is growing.