UPDATE 1-US safety regulators warn about counterfeit air bags

* Affects some cars with air bags replaced in last 3 years

* Consumers with counterfeit bags to pay for replacement

* NHTSA unaware of deaths, injuries related to the issue

(Adds government official comments, details)

Oct 10 (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators warned consumersWednesday that their repaired vehicles may contain air bags thatfail to inflate during an accident.

Only vehicles that had an air bag replaced over the pastthree years - by repair shops that are not part of new-cardealerships - may be at risk, the National Highway TrafficSafety Administration said.

The safety agency said testing revealed that counterfeit airbags were being used to replace bags in vehicles involved incrashes over the past three years.

The agency wasn't aware of any deaths or injuries linked tothe counterfeit air bags, which carry an additional risk ofexpelling metal shrapnel during deployment.

The full scope of the problem wasn't certain, but the agencybelieved the issue affects less than 0.1 percent of the U.S.vehicle fleet. Consumers who bought their cars new, have not hadtheir air bags replaced, or had the bags replaced at a new-cardealer, were not affected.

"Any time equipment that is critical to protecting driversand passengers fails to operate properly, it is a serious safetyconcern," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in astatement. "We want consumers to be immediately aware of thisproblem and to review our safety information to see if theirvehicle could be in need of inspection."

The counterfeit air bags look nearly identical to certifiedparts, and bear the insignia and branding of major automakers,NHTSA said.

The agency said consumers who may have affected cars andtrucks should contact call centers established by automakers tohave their vehicle inspected and air bags replaced if necessary,at their own expense. The list of call centers and additionalinformation is available at .

NHTSA said it was working with several other federalagencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department ofJustice, to better understand the issue and how to preventcounterfeit air bags from being purchased and installed.

"Organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit andsubstandard airbags to consumers and suppliers with little to noregard to hazardous health and safety consequences," ICEDirector John Morton said. "We will continue to aggressivelyinvestigate criminal supply chains ... and bring these criminalsto justice."

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by BernadetteBaum)


Messaging: benjamin.klayman.thomsonreuters@reuters.net))