Counterfeit and Salvage Airbags

Recently the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a consumer safety advisory to alert vehicle owners and repair professionals to the growing use of counterfeit airbags.

NHTSA reports that while these airbags can look nearly identical to Original Equipment (OE) airbags, their testing has shown they consistently malfunction, with some even releasing metal shrapnel during deployment. To help determine whether your vehicle may be at risk, see NHTSA’s alert, and for more information on the potential dangers of counterfeit airbags, visit Honda’s AirbagAware website.

Another area to pay special attention as you go through the collision repair process is the possible use of salvage airbags—these are parts that have been removed from another vehicle, usually one that was considered a total loss.

Your car or truck’s airbags work in concert with airbag deployment sensors and all components of the energy absorption system to provide proper timing for their deployment when you need them. Automakers have confidence in the performance of the airbags and airbag system components they design and install in their vehicles, as they’re engineered, built and tested to work together as a system in the event of a crash.

The use of salvage airbags is not recommended by carmakers, however (see position statements below), as many factors could affect their integrity, including weathering, removal processes and reconditioning techniques. In addition, airbags and their associated components are designed for specific vehicles, and changes can occur even within specific vehicle models due to technological improvements. This means it’s possible for a salvage airbag to fit into an inappropriate vehicle, possibly jeopardizing the integrity of the entire airbag system.

It’s not just automakers urging vehicle owners to use caution when airbags need to be replaced, however—in a Q & A document for consumers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says, “A new replacement airbag module from the original manufacturer of the vehicle should be used for vehicles that require an airbag replacement.” It goes on to warn, “… there’s a significant possibility of a mismatch between the salvaged airbag module and the vehicle being repaired.” You can read the entire IIHS Q & A here.

As with all aspects of getting your car or truck repaired, the best advice is to ask questions of your repairer and/or insurer, and be sure you’re comfortable with the parts being used to make those repairs.

Automaker Position Statements

Chrysler

Ford

GM

Honda

Nissan

Toyota

Volkswagen