Auto mechanics, government warn of risks with replacement air bags

FORT MYERS, Fla. Vehicles involved in crashes where air bags have been deployed may have not been repaired with the correct parts, or any at all, according to automotive repair experts.

Mechanic George Girgis said he has seen vehicles where the bag was just sewn up and glued back together, and the warning light system has been disabled to deceive the consumer.

“You can’t trick the computer, but you can trick the new customer that wants to buy the vehicle either by disconnecting the light bulb or cutting the wire so they have no idea there’s a problem going on,” said Girgis, who works at Happy Wallet auto repair in Naples.

Even if the bags have been replaced, salvage yards and repair shops could install parts that are defective.

A Nevada woman reported shards of material going into her throat and face when defective air bags deployed in a crash.

She claimed that she was not aware that recalled Takata air bags were put in her used vehicle.

The part maker has had to recall millions of air bags installed in several auto-brands, and is facing a widespread class action lawsuit.

In the wake of the Takata recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Department of Transportation are monitoring the issue of replacement air bags.

“DOT and NHTSA efforts have been focused on educating the salvage and recycling industry about the prohibition on selling defective and noncompliant equipment … The agency has the authority to enforce civil penalties on businesses that do not comply,” an NHTSA spokesperson wrote via email.

CarFax, which provides vehicle history reports, has launched a free online tool to allow consumers to check to see if a vehicle is involved in a crash where air bags have been deployed.

Consumers can have a mechanic run a diagnostic check to make sure the air bag system is functioning properly prior to purchasing a used vehicle.

Girgis said he is able to quickly to discover if an improper replacement part has been used, or if the system has not been replaced at all.

NHTSA encourages the public to report any salvage business or recycler they suspect may be selling defective replacement parts by calling 1-888-327-4236 or going online.

Carfax expert Chris Basso spoke about the issue with WINK News investigative reporter Lauren Sweeney on Facebook:

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney