Remanufactured, Replacement, Refurbished and Recalled Airbags in Used Cars: Buyer Beware

Since their introduction in the 1980s, airbags have been identified as proven, effective safety devices that drastically reduce the risk of fatality and serious injury to vehicle occupants involved in automobile collisions. The protection offered by airbags is a factor that many car buyers take into consideration when purchasing a vehicle. What many fail to consider, though, is the potential for airbag safety issues associated with the purchase of a used vehicle. After all, airbags are only useful if they are correctly installed, properly functioning, and deploy in the manner in which they are intended to. The Chicago Injury Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. discuss some important tips for consumers to keep in mind when purchasing a used vehicle equipped with airbags.

Know the Vehicle History

Anytime an accident occurs in an airbag-equipped vehicle, there is a risk that one or more of the airbags may have deployed. In fact, airbags have become increasingly sensitive, and can deploy even in relatively minor incidents. For example, a motorist that strikes a curb in just the right way, can trigger airbag deployment. Obtaining a vehicle history report from a reputable source (i.e. Carfax or AutoCheck) is a useful starting point in determining whether the vehicle was previously involved in an accident.

Know the Differences between Salvage, Rebuilt, and Junk Vehicles

Replacing just one airbag can cost as much as $1000 or more. Depending on the number and type of airbags that deployed, the cost of repair can often exceed the car’s value, which can result in the vehicle being declared a total loss. Ask the seller to view the title. The notation “Rebuilt” indicates a vehicle that was previously salvaged, and then converted following inspection. A junk certificate, on the other hand, when issued by the state of Illinois, is essentially a ‘death certificate’ for the vehicle, and makes it ineligible for title or registration in the state. See, Illinois’ Title System, to read more about how to protect yourself when purchasing a used vehicle.

Know What Signs to Look For

Look for indicator lights in the dash signifying a potential airbag issue. Also, look for uneven wear or discoloration in the interior, as well as glue drops and/or interior components surrounding the airbag casings that appear out of line. Buyers should also check for signs of water/flood damage or other indicators that the vehicle may have been submerged (i.e. moldy smells; discolored carpets; water stains; moisture; rust; corrosion; electrical issues).

Know Common Deceptive Practices

Just a few deceptive practices to be aware of when purchasing a used vehicle include:

  • ‘False Airbags.’ Stuffing items into airbag units, such as rags or other materials, in a manner that makes the airbags appear to have been repaired.
  • ‘Improperly Remanufactured Airbags.’ Using parts from other vehicles, non-factory parts, or any part that is not approved by the manufacturer to repair airbags.
  • ‘Deactivated Airbags.’ Disabling non-functioning or improperly installed airbags, in an attempt to hide airbag problems from potential buyers.
  • ‘Bypass of Warning Lights.’ Removing fuses, switching wires, or performing any action to eliminate any in-dash indicators that provide notification of airbag issues present within the vehicle.
  • ‘Title Washing.’ Removing title designations like “salvage” or “flood” so that the vehicle appears to have a clean record. This can occur when vehicles are moved between states, due to variations in state titling laws.

Know the Law

Illinois is one of the few states with laws that prohibit false or remanufactured airbags. In addition to criminal penalties, sellers that violate state regulations can also be held civilly liable for their unlawful actions. Further, most states recognize fraud and/or misrepresentation as both a reprehensible offense under criminal law, as well as a grounds for financial recovery in a civil action. Fraud or misrepresentation occurs when a vehicle is sold, or offered for sale, under the pretense that the vehicle is equipped with (functioning) airbags.

Check for Recalls

With nearly one out of every seven vehicle affected by recent airbag recalls, consumers should always check to see if a used vehicle they wish to purchase is subject to a recall. If it was, you should ask the seller for documentation that the repair was indeed made, and that it was performed by a licensed service facility.

Other Red-Flags

Out-of-state vehicles, missing records, title issues, and any discrepancies between seller statements, available documents, and the vehicle itself should give cause for concern. By doing your homework, asking for documentation, looking for inconsistencies, as well as understanding the law, buyers can reduce the risk of purchasing a used vehicle with remanufactured, false, defective, or non-functioning airbags.

If you have a question or concern regarding an airbag or another vehicle safety feature, or you or a loved one were injured or killed in an automobile collision that occurred in Illinois, contact the Chicago Car Accident Lawyers of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. at 773-516-4100 to discuss your matter with our experienced legal professionals.