On the morning of April 8th residents of the Virginia town of Fairlington woke up to find the air
bags in their vehicles were stolen overnight. In many cases, the car windows
were smashed, the hoods popped, and the batteries disconnected. Not a
single resident reported hearing any sounds as the thieves made their
way through the neighborhood. Recently, stealing air bags has become the
latest trend in auto-related theft. Law enforcement personnel have dubbed
air bags the "new car stereos."
An air bag can be removed in under 2 minutes, they are easy to store, easy
to transport, but most importantly they fetch $50 - $200 on the black
market. Disreputable mechanics are often all too happy to buy air bags
off the black market, and charge you or your insurance company full price
for them. A mechanic can easily reap the benefits of an incredibly large
profit margin using these stolen products. For example, the two front
air bags in a 1994 Ford Taurus can coast approximately $1,800, and that
is not including the cost of labor.
The most horrifying consequence of this trend is that some mechanics are
now doing the stealing themselves, rather than buying the air bags from
thieves. A mechanic can leisurely remove your air bag while working on your
car, and then replace with a fake or with nothing at all. A second scenario
is when you have work done after an accident a mechanic may tell you that
they are replacing your air bags with a new ones.
Instead, they simply put fake air bags or the used air bags back in, but
they still charge you for new ones. The specific air bag that goes into
your car is incredibly important. It must be the exact air bag required
for your car's specifications. Also, in order to work properly it
must be professionally installed, so that the sensors will work properly.
If a mechanic commits this type of fraud, you may not even know of it
until after you are in an accident and your air bag have not deployed.
So how can you protect yourself in these situations? First, if you are
buying a used car have an independent mechanic inspect it. You can also
look to see if the cover of the air bag on the steering wheel looks fake.
For example, the grain or coloration may differ from the rest of the interior.
Use caution, however, because you should never attempt to inspect the
air bag yourself as it could accidently deploy causing serious injury.
Also, when you have the air bags replaced ensure you use a dealership
or reputable mechanic.
Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau or Angie's List.
Using a reputable mechanic is a very important step because of the potential
consequences. For instance in 2005, two teenagers were killed when fake
air bags purchased from the internet did not properly deploy. Additionally,
to protect against theft law enforcement personnel recommend the Club,
which is a device that is meant to lock your steering wheel into place,
but it also blocks access to the driver's side air bag.
If a thief knows that he cannot get to one of the air bags, then he may
pass the whole car over entirely. Please remember that you air bags are
one of the most important safety features on your vehicle, second only
to your seat belts, it is not a place to allow any room for doubt as to
whether they are functioning perfectly.