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Consumer Alert: Airbag Fraud

Car shoppers today are more likely to buy used over new than ever before. But while going used is a great way to protect your bank account, you need to be extra careful to make sure you’re buying a safe vehicle.

One scam to be on the lookout for is airbag fraud. This happens when cars that have been in accidents never get their airbags replaces and instead have airbag compartments that are stuffed with things like rags or paper or foam. It happens more frequently than you might think. Carfax estimates that about one out of every 25 deployed airbags are replaces with either nonworking or dummy airbags.

Lauren Fix of the Car Care Council offers tips for preventing this type of dangerous fraud. First, if you’re purchasing a used car make sure you take it to an outside collision shop for a review and inspection. You should also do this if your car has been in an accident when the airbags deploy. A good shop should be able to tell you if the bags have been replaced. You can also take the car to the dealer to be ensured that you get original parts. (Watch the accompanying video for more.)

You can tell if the airbags on your new car have been replaced by making sure you run the VIN through Carfax, which offers this service for free at Carfax.com/airbag. But that’s assuming the accident has been report, and not all are. Again, make sure to have a technician look at it. And tell them to check the side impact airbags, too.

Hopefully, you will never need to find out first hand that your airbags have malfunctioned. This is where your anti-lock brakes come in. To make sure they’re working, pay attention to the ABS light on the dash. Don’t listen to technicians or mechanics who tell you this light ‘just comes on sometimes.’ If the light is on, get it checked out immediately. You can also find out if the ABS is working correctly by stepping on the brakes when the road is icy or wet. If the car starts to slide and doesn’t pulsate, you’ve got a problem.

And don’t forget about seatbelt trouble. When your car is in an accident, your seatbelt has two important functions: a pre-tensioner and a load-limited. The former makes the belt lock when you move forward quickly. The latter prevents the belt from breaking your collar bone if you stop short. Both parts – in fact, the entire seatbelt – should always be replaced after a major accident.

Never fear getting into a good fight with your insurance company over an accident. They will always try to go the cheapest route, but you should always push back and tell them it isn’t acceptable. If you can state your case without being adversarial, you can usually get what you want.