Traffic Safety Agency Warns Consumers of Fraudulent Airbags

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.


October 10, 2012

Yee-authored law prohibits fraudulent repair of car airbags

SACRAMENTO – Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a consumer safety advisory warning vehicle owners and auto body shops to the dangers of counterfeit airbags.

The warning comes one year after California approved legislation authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) to protect consumers from fraudulent repair of car airbags. SB 869 created a new crime of $5,000 and/or one year in prison for an automotive repair dealer who purports to replace a deployed airbag but who in fact fails to fully repair and restore it.

“Some of the stories involving airbag repair, or lack thereof, are simply unconscionable,” said Yee. “While we are fortunate in California to have a law that will help protect consumers and hold body shops accountable, we must continue to be vigilant in ensuring the repairs we are paying for are in fact the repairs we are receiving.”

“Anytime equipment that is critical to protecting drivers and passengers fails to operate properly, it is a serious safety concern,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want consumers to be immediately aware of this problem and to review our safety information to see if their vehicle could be in need of inspection.”

According to the Center for Auto Safety, over 150,000 airbags are deployed every year in California.

A study by NHTSA showed that the most common reason for a malfunctioning airbag was that the airbag was missing or never replaced after a previous crash.

A report by National Public Radio (NPR) showed some dealers and repair shops even stuffed airbag compartments with aluminum cans, shoe leather, packaging materials, and even paper.

In 2009, 10News in San Diego reported on a father and mother who lost their son due to airbag fraud and were awarded a $15 million dollar judgment against the owner of an auto repair shop.  Their son was killed in a car accident as result of a fraudulent airbag repair in which the body shop filled the steering wheel with paper instead of a new airbag.

In 2003, a Houston woman was badly injured and her mother killed after a collision in which the passenger airbag was simply stuffed back in and taped shut and the driver’s side airbag was completely missing.

Also in 2003, a student in Seattle died in a crash after her previously deployed airbag was simply cut out and a fake dashboard inserted.


Contact: Adam J. Keigwin,
(916) 651-4008