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Why would someone want to steal my airbag?

Preventing Airbag Theft
Be wary if your dashboard doesn't look like this. Your airbag could be damaged or missing.
Be wary if your dashboard doesn't look like this. Your airbag could be damaged or missing.
Car Culture/Getty Images

There are a few things you can do reduce the chances of your airbags being stolen. Many of them will help prevent car theft in general: Park in a well-lit location, keep your car locked, and don't leave valuables in plain sight. The use of a steering wheel locking device, like "The Club," could prevent access to the airbag in some cars.

How great is your risk? The airbag black market is just as driven by supply and demand as any other. Because airbags are particular to specific car makes and models, more common cars are in higher demand. For example, the Honda Civic and Acura Integra are popular targets.

Unfortunately, avoiding repair shop scams can be even harder than avoiding theft. Here are a few tips to make sure your airbag is properly and safely installed:

  • If possible, have the new airbag installed at a dealership. They will have the right airbag for your car and will have mechanics trained to install them.
  • If you have doubts, find another mechanic to inspect the airbag. If you're buying a used car, make sure the airbag is on your mechanic's list when he checks the car out for you.
  • Look for a fake cover on the airbag. The grain or color might not be a perfect match to the rest of the console.
  • Keep an eye on the dashboard warning lights. Some newer cars have airbag indicator lights that signal when there's a problem.
  • Use CARFAX or a similar service to get a history of any used vehicle you buy.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau or Angie's List for a history of complaints with a repair shop you're considering using.

One important thing to remember -- never try to inspect or repair an airbag yourself. If you accidentally deploy the airbag, it could cause a serious injury.

Automakers and legislators could also help prevent airbag theft. Airbag system designs could integrate parts of the airbag into the vehicle more thoroughly. Without the integral parts, the airbag wouldn't work, and removing them would be prohibitively difficult or time consuming. Unfortunately, this would make airbags even more expensive and the already high labor cost of airbag replacement would skyrocket.

A possible legal remedy comes in the form of the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). This allows people to electronically check the title on a car to see if it's been reported totaled in another state. While 34 states are part of the program, there are several other states where scam artists can ply their trade. Some states have laws that require accident reports to include information on airbag deployment, or outline the procedures repair shops must follow when replacing them. Other laws designed to combat airbag scams include the Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act, a federal law passed in 1984 that created strong penalties for transporting stolen cars or car parts across state lines, and made such crimes prosecutable under racketeering laws [source: Insurance Information Institute].

What's at stake in this fight against airbag theft? More than just higher insurance rates or a hefty repair bill. There have been several incidents in which people were seriously injured or killed because of faulty airbag replacement. In one case, a woman was injured and a passenger killed because their used car had been in a prior accident. The airbag had never been properly replaced and was instead simply tucked out of sight. In a 2005 accident, two teenagers were killed when improperly installed airbags, purchased on the Internet, failed to deploy [source: National Safety Commission].

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