Counterfeit airbags are becoming alarmingly more common

Counterfeit products are a big problem in the luxury watch world and even high-end clothing and wardrobe collections, but they are not typically associated with car parts critical to safety. A young mother of two lost her life to a counterfeit airbag, and the scariest part is that she’s not alone.

Five people have been seriously injured or killed by fake airbags in the past year, The Wall Street Journal reported, raising several red flags about how many more could be in circulation. The component that killed 22-year-old Destiny Byassee exploded after a crash, flinging metal and plastic pieces toward her, cutting open her neck.

Automakers have been pushing dealers to be more in tune with the parts they receive, and federal law enforcement agencies have conducted several arrests and have achieved several convictions over the past year. In one case, two individuals were arrested for allegedly selling thousands of counterfeit airbags by listing them as new on eBay.

Even with those efforts, the government is worried that more faulty airbags could make their way into Americans’ vehicles. A potential recall for vehicles carrying airbags from Tennessee’s ARC Automotive could involve as many as 50 million vehicles, leading lawmakers to worry that more counterfeit components could end up in recalled models.

Like counterfeit watches, fake airbags have become exceptionally difficult to identify, but the cost should be a good indication that a product is not legitimate. OEM-specified airbags can cost $1,000 or more, while counterfeit units can go for as little as $100.

Airbag inflators use a small controlled explosion that releases a chemical to inflate the bag. Counterfeit products may have improper chemical mixtures or faulty inflator modules that can fail to inflate or explode, releasing shrapnel into the cabin. It’s a similar issue to one that led to the Takata airbag recall, though those units were authentic and OEM-approved.

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