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CNET On Cars: Smarter Driver: Is your airbag your enemy?

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CNET On Cars: Smarter Driver: Is your airbag your enemy?

3:11 /

Airbags save lives, but CNET's Brian Cooley shows you how counterfeit airbags can be hazardous to your health.

Airbags blow when triggered by one of several G force sensors or accelerometers mounted around your car, and when they do deploy it's loud and violent. It's something you want working absolutely perfectly so it'll walk that fine line between saving your life and making things work. A counterfeit airbag could even fool the experts. It'll have the right materials typically, it might have the right logo stamped on or even the right serial number, but that's where the similarity to a real one ends and can end dangerously. Our partners over at State Farm tipped us off to an investigation those recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and they are detecting bogus airbags in the marketplace. The basic idea is to offer one at lower cost, but that's not a good tradeoff you wanna make. The problem, well they may not deploy in a crash or not forcefully enough or they may deploy too hard and they can even send metal shrapnel flying around inside the car. Now most insurance companies and any reputable body shop is not gonna hesitate to pay for and put the genuine item back on there. I mean this is a critical part. It's not like you're replacing a piece of sheet metal. Now even if counterfeit airbags were easy to spot, this one's legit but I don't know. I wouldn't know if I haven't been told. How would you spot one of these? The same trained mechanic doesn't play around with these things and for good reason, this is the business end. This is where there is that high explosive propellant that inflates this thing in that fraction of a second during a collision. You don't wanna be fooling around with this and crossing wires the wrong way, so you'll leave this kind of thing to body shops and reputable repair shops. However, here are some tips you can use to make sure that the history of your vehicle or its future repairs involve real genuine airbags. For the most part, vehicles that have had an airbag replaced in the past 3 years by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership could be at risk. Now if you think your car may have passed through a sketchy repair shop after a past collision or has an airbag installed that was bought online, you're not helpless. Go to safercar.gov, that government website will hook you up with call centers that will let you work with the car maker to determine if you've got legitimate airbag in your car. They can often figure that out by doing a data read of some of the codes that come off the data bus in your car. This also says if you bought a car with a salvaged or similar title or if you bought an airbag on eBay and it was really cheap like under 400 bucks, those are also red flags. Now I'll grant you this may sound like a lot of Safety Bee worry warning over a part you never see and hopefully will never use, but airbags are unique in all the components of a car with a unique sort of dangerous edge to them. You don't want one that's working mostly right.

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