'It's not just one brand impacted.' What to know about the rising threat of counterfeit airbags

Posted at 4:57 PM, Jun 27, 2024

(WXYZ) — The rising threat of counterfeit airbags across the country is a huge concern for auto manufacturers and law enforcement.

Officials say they are hard to detect and recently, fake airbags have resulted in severe injuries and even deaths.

Bill Demopolis is the manager at New Roads Collision Center on Telegraph and 10 Mile roads. He said they get nearly 40 vehicles of the month, and the extent of the damage ranges.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that frontal airbags alone have saved more than 50,000 lives across the country over a 30-year period.

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Most vehicles nowadays have 10 or more airbags strategically located throughout the cabin.

"We are looking at the steering bag, the knee bag, the seat bag and the curtains. What they do is protect you from hitting the door with this one, hitting the window with this one and hitting the steering with that one. So, in any direction you may get a close head injury, it stops you," Demopolis said.

In the event of a crash, airbags deploy within milliseconds — faster than the blink of an eye — and anything longer than that would be catastrophic. That's why manufacturers rigorously test airbags to meet international standards. It's something an aftermarket or counterfeit product wouldn't go through.

Watch video of the difference between OEM airbags and counterfeit airbags below

See the difference between OEM & counterfeit airbags

Over the years, counterfeit airbags have become a huge concern for automakers and law enforcement. In fact, Bob Stewart from the Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council says there has been a rise in counterfeit airbags in circulation across the country recently.

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In Michigan earlier this month, the Attorney General's Office executed search warrants in the metro Detroit area concerning the sale of suspected counterfeit airbags.

Since the investigation is ongoing, the AG's office declined to comment further but did say they are reviewing evidence, which includes suspected counterfeit airbags.

"So to date, we haven't tested a counterfeit airbag that's performed anywhere close to the way they were originally supposed to perform," Stewart said.

"Where do you get these?" I asked.

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"The biggest source right now is online marketplace," Stewart added.

Depending on the auto brand, an original airbag would cost around $1,000. While a counterfeit is a few hundred dollars or less.

"It's not just one brand impacted — it's all the manufacturers here in the U.S.," Stewart said.

Stewart said they are primarily coming from China.

"How are these parts being installed in vehicles?" I asked.

"The scary part is we don't know how many of them are out there, so we don't necessarily know how they are getting into a lot of the vehicles, but the cases we do know are repair shops buying vehicles, fixing them and putting them out in the market as used vehicles," he said.

"If regular folks want to get their cars repaired, what can they do to make sure that the whatever part is being installed in their vehicle is original?" I asked.

"Ask where they are sourcing from and see where the parts are coming from," Stewart said.

Meanwhile, Demopolis says folks can keep repairs budget-friendly by opting for a used part. If it has a VIN number associated with it, the part is original.

Moreover, according to Demopolis, the Big Three automakers also have a website called Collision Link, which helps consumers price-match used parts with brand-new parts.

Both men recommend for you and your loved one's safety to always install original parts and of course, when in doubt, don't be afraid to ask for that invoice to know where that part came from.