If you have recently changed an airbag, you already know the answer to this question. They’re quite expensive! Drivers may have to pay up to $1,000 to replace an airbag, in addition to labor fees and the cost of repairing a potentially damaged dashboard and/or windshield.
This may explain why a number of law enforcement agencies refer to airbags as “the new automobile stereos.” It is mostly due to their increasing appeal among car thieves. If you’ve ever had your car broken into, you’re familiar with the fury and aggravation you feel when you see that huge hole in your dashboard; but, the theft of an airbag takes unpleasant to an entirely new level. Why? Because you wouldn’t realize your airbag is missing until it’s too late. This stolen airbag might result in severe damage or perhaps death in the event of a serious collision.
In less than two minutes, burglars can sneak into a vehicle and take an airbag. But, some airbags are stolen as part of a scam perpetrated by dishonest repair companies.
This essay will explain how airbag scams work, why airbags are becoming such a popular target for thieves, and how to prevent airbag theft.
Popular Among Thieves
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, thieves in the United States annually steal approximately 50,000 airbags valued approximately $50 million. The figures would be considerably higher if there were fewer older vehicles on the road without airbags [source: State Farm]. Why would burglars wish to steal an airbag in the first place?
Costly are airbags. In addition to any damaged steering wheel or dashboard components, the bag itself must be replaced. Also, the sensors and other electronics must be changed. Nevertheless, it is a very labor-intensive job: A qualified technician is required to install an airbag. For instance, replacing both front airbags on a 1994 Ford Taurus costs around $1,800, labor not included [source: Moore]. The price would be significantly more if the vehicle featured side airbags. Despite their expense, airbags are straightforward to remove, transport, and store. The result? A booming illicit market for stolen airbags. A shady mechanic can purchase a stolen airbag for $200, then bill the customer the full price and pocket the difference.
In fact, the theft of airbags has grown so lucrative that even shady repair shops have begun to partake in the activity. Instead of a criminal breaking into your vehicle and ripping out the airbag, which sometimes needs the removal of no more than four bolts, mechanics can do it while “repairing” your vehicle.
In one form of the fraud, known as “the pullout,” your old airbag is yanked out to make it appear as though it deployed in the collision (when in fact it did not). Or, they don’t replace it at all. You or your insurance company will be charged the entire cost of a new airbag.
The “switch” refers to a variation of the fraud that occurs when you are involved in an accident, but your airbag does not deploy. Your original airbag is removed and replaced with a second airbag that has already been deployed. Your insurance company is billed for a replacement airbag, but the mechanics just reinstall the original airbag. They may even sell your airbag and replace it with a less expensive model or with rags or similar materials. Without a comprehensive inspection by a skilled technician, it is impossible to determine whether a genuine airbag is still installed and operational.
The installation of a cheaper airbag in place of the original may be a swindle, but is it really that bad? Many airbags are available for purchase on eBay, so used and unused airbags can’t be entirely hazardous, right? If various requirements are met, a used airbag can be a great deal:
- Everything was professionally and properly removed
- It’s the correct airbag for the vehicle — there is no universal airbag size.
- It was installed correctly by a trained mechanic.
How many of these parameters do you believe the airbag genuinely met if the used airbag was placed as part of a repair shop scam? Likely none.
Next page explains how to prevent thieves from stealing your airbags.
Preventing Airbag Theft
There are several measures you can take to lessen the likelihood of your airbags being taken. Many of them will aid in the general prevention of auto theft: Place your vehicle in a well-lit area, keep it locked, and do not leave valuables in plain view. In some vehicles, the employment of a steering wheel locking device, such as “The Club,” could prohibit access to the airbag.
What is your level of risk? The black market for airbags is similarly influenced by supply and demand as any other market. Due to the fact that airbags are exclusive to certain car brands and models, the demand for common automobiles is greater. Popular targets include the Honda Civic and Acura Integra.
However, avoiding repair shop frauds is often more difficult than avoiding shoplifting. Here are some guidelines for installing your airbag correctly and safely:
- Install the new airbag at a dealership if possible. They will have the correct airbag for your vehicle and trained mechanics to install it.
- Get another mechanic to inspect the airbag if you have doubts. If you’re purchasing a secondhand vehicle, make sure the airbag is on your mechanic’s list of things to check.
- Check for a counterfeit airbag cover. The texture or color may not quite match the remainder of the console.
- See the dashboard’s warning lights. Some modern automobiles include airbag indicator lights that illuminate when a problem exists.
- Employ CARFAX or a comparable service to obtain a vehicle’s history before purchasing a secondhand car.
- Check the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List for a repair shop’s complaint history before hiring them.
Remember that you should never attempt to inspect or repair an airbag yourself. If the airbag is unintentionally deployed, it could cause catastrophic injury.
Automakers and lawmakers could also aid in the prevention of airbag theft. Airbag system designs could incorporate more airbag components into the vehicle. Without the integral components, the airbag would not function, and removing them would be impractical or time-consuming. This would make airbags much more expensive, and the already high labor costs associated with replacing airbags would increase.
The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System provides a potential legal remedy (NMVTIS). This allows individuals to electronically verify a vehicle’s title to determine whether it has been reported as totaled in another state. While 34 states participate in the program, there are a number of other states where fraudsters can operate. Several states have rules mandating that accident reports contain information on airbag deployment or that repair businesses follow specific protocols while replacing them. Other laws designed to combat airbag scams include the Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act, a 1984 federal law that created harsh penalties for transporting stolen cars or car parts across state lines and made such crimes prosecutable under racketeering laws [source: Insurance Information Institute].
What is at risk in this effort to combat airbag theft? More than just increased insurance premiums or costly repairs. There have been a number of situations in which replacement airbags have resulted in significant injuries or deaths. In one instance, a woman was injured and a passenger was died due to the accident history of their used vehicle. The airbag had never been properly updated and was merely hidden from view. Two teens were murdered in an accident in 2005 after illegally installed, Internet-purchased airbags failed to deploy [source: National Safety Commission].
Please review the links on the following page for additional information on airbags and related issues.