Peddling of defective air bags on eBay prompts consumer warning

An underground market is growing on the Internet for unauthorized and possibly dangerous replacements for Takata Corp.’s recalled air bags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has learned of defective air bags for sale on EBay Inc., said Jennifer Timian, chief of the agency’s recall management division. Consumers shouldn’t risk buying replacement air bags from anyone but an authorized dealer, she said.

“These remedies require technical expertise and must be completed by properly trained personnel,” Timian said. “Under no circumstances should a person purchase an air bag off the Internet, or from a salvage yard or any other unauthorized source.”

The largest-ever U.S. automotive safety recall now covers more than 19 million vehicles made by 12 automakers. A total of 23 million defective inflators need to be replaced, but less than a quarter of the affected cars in the United States have been repaired NHTSA said in a briefing Thursday in Washington. NHTSA has confirmed seven fatalities in the U.S., one overseas, linked to the defective parts.

Law enforcement agencies in Miami have described underground networks stealing inflators – including defective Takata-made versions – for resale, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind told reporters.

“We’re learning about these groups all over the country, basically ripping off inflators, because they know there’s a need for them right now,” Rosekind said.

It’s more about air bag inflators and modules being valuable auto parts than consumers desperately searching for ways to replace their Takata air bags, Timian said.

In their update of the safety investigation, NHTSA officials said they still haven’t been able to determine a root cause for the Takata defect, which can cause air-bag inflators to explode, sending shrapnel toward drivers and passengers. The agency is more convinced than ever that the defect is triggered by prolonged, constant exposure to high humidity and age.

A 10-year-old vehicle in Florida will be more at risk than a 3-year-old vehicle anywhere or 10-year-old vehicle in a northern state like New York or Ohio, said Stephen Ridella, NHTSA’s director of vehicle crash-worthiness research.

Parts production has increased to 2.8 million replacement kits in the most recent month, NHTSA said. The agency has enlisted three other parts suppliers, Autoliv Inc., Daicel Corp. and ZF TRW Automotive Holdings, to produce inflators for Takata-assembled repair modules, the agency said.

The agency is considering using its power to order automakers and Takata to step up production and speed repairs, Rosekind said. No final decision has been made. The agency will make a determination by Thanksgiving, he said.

Still, the recall completion rate is lagging. As of Oct. 9, just 22.5 percent of the affected cars in the U.S. had been repaired. In high-humidity states getting priority for repairs, like Florida and others on the Gulf Coast, the completion rate is 29.5 percent.

“If your vehicle is under a recall, please call your local dealer to arrange for free repairs,” Rosekind said.