This important safety feature, however, can’t do any good, if it isn’t there.
California has reported a number of cases where airbags were missing, never replaced after a previous crash, or filled with other material. In 2009, a San Diego couple was awarded $15 million from an auto repair shop after their son was killed in a car accident because of a fraudulent air bag that was filled with paper instead of a new air bag.
Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law, making it a crime for auto repair shops that claim to have replaced or repaired a deployed airbag when they haven’t. Those caught can be fined $5,000 and sent to prison for a year. The bill officially becomes law on Jan. 1, 2012.
This scam, a profitable one for dealerships and independent repair shops, works in a few ways. Shops can order cheap repair parts online and charge the customer the full price for the airbag, or they could never install the new airbag all the while charging the customer for parts and labor. Replacing airbags is costly; it can run more than $1,000 to install and set up properly.
The NHTSA says the most common reason for a malfunctioning airbag is that it was never replaced after a previous crash.