Safety experts are working on ways to drive down the risk of injuries and death due to auto accidents.

They are, however, running into problems from a surprising source: airbag fraud.  It's on the rise and may soon rank as one of the worst vehicle repair scams out there—a potentially fatal one.  The average used car buyer may never know whether the airbag in their new vehicle is there, until it's too late.

Last year, five million vehicles were totaled by insurance companies and issued salvage titles.  Nearly half of those were rebuilt and put back on the road.  Even if the accident was minor, if the airbag deployed, airbag fraud is a risk factor.

Estimated are that one out of every 25 previously damaged vehicles has either non-working or dummy airbags.  The problem may be worse in other parts of the country.  Airbag systems are expensive to replace, so dishonest mechanics keep costs down and profits up by using incorrect or outdated systems—sometimes none at all!—to replace the deployed bags.  Since it's virtually impossible for consumers to tell just by looking that dummy airbags were used, they may be purchasing vehicles that, in an accident, won't protect them at all.

To help consumers avoid airbag fraud, Larry Gamache of CARFAX gives the following advice:

Car buyers should ask sellers for a vehicle history report, like those offered by CARFAX, and see if the car has ever been branded salvage

  • When turning on the ignition, the airbag indicator light should appear momentarily and then go out
  • If the indicator light remains on, there may be an airbag system problem.  Take the vehicle to a qualified mechanic for further inspection.
  • If the light never comes on, there could be a serious problem.  The airbag may be missing and the bulb removed or the system may have been turned off.

Using the information from a vehicle history report and taking the vehicle to a certified airbag mechanic for inspection prior to purchase can ensure a properly working airbag system.  That could mean the difference between life and death when it really matters.

To obtain a Vehicle History Report, visit CARFAX, preferred VHR provider for

Copyright © 1996 - 2007, CARFAX, Inc.


Related Articles & Car Reviews

Find Cars for sale near you:

Research by Vehicle Type

  • Commercial
  • Convertible
  • Coupe
  • Hatchback
  • Hybrid
  • Luxury
  • Sedan
  • SUV
  • Truck
  • Van/Minivan
  • Wagon

Shopping Tools