Airbag Hazard on Rebuilt Vehicles
One of the major risks of buying a rebuilt vehicle is missing or malfunctioning airbags. Unlike with the engine, transmission, seats or anything else, your can't know how well they work during the test drive. You can't know before an accident happens - and that's already too late. It doesn't mean that rebuilt vehicles are not worth considering, they may be great bargains. Just stay informed, take all the necessary precautions and checks and enjoy driving at a lower price if your vehicle checks out.
The airbag hazard on any used vehicle thrives on a misconception that airbag deplyoment always means that the vehicle is a total loss and you will see it on the title, so there is no risk of getting a non-functioning airbag on a vehicle with a clean title. Below we explain how that happens. But first of all we have to remind about the biggest recall in automotive history that concerns about 42 million drivers in the US.
Takata, a major airbag manufacturer recalled about 67 million airbags installed on about 42 million vehicles because of a defective inflator that may either fail to properly deploy the airbag or explode at deployment after long exposure to heat or humidity and kill with metal shreds. Such explosions have alreay resulted in injuries and deaths. Some makes and models are at a higher risk than others. If you own any of the models listed below or have the original airbags in your vehicle replaced with ones dismantled from these models you should not drive or let anyone drive them or even stay in the front seats. Take them to a dealer to have them repaired immediately:
- 2001-2002 Honda Civic
- 2001-2002 Honda Accord
- 2002-2003 Acura TL
- 2002 Honda CR-V
- 2002 Honda Odyssey
- 2003 Acura CL
- 2003 Honda Pilot
- Certain 2006 Ford Ranger (Ford advises do not drive)
- Certain 2006 Mazda B-Series (Mazda advises do not drive) *
Check the drivers' guides reagarding Takata recall at https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/takata-recall-spotlight . The information may be changed and updated.
Airbag alert for used and rebuilt vehicle buyers.
First of all, if you check VIN and find an airbag deployment on the vehicle history report, anywhere in its history, it could be a better idea to look to another vehicle unless you have a trusted mechanic who can check airbags for you with OEM airbag scan tool. Missing or not funtcioning airbags on rebuilt vehicles is not a myth or scarytale, such cases are regularly reported. An airbag deployment may occur not just during the accident that wrote-off the vehicle but in one of previous accidents you may be unaware of and so have no suspicions. Or being aware of front airbag deployment you won't know that side airbags were blown up in the past.
How do vehicles end up on the road with non-functional airbags?
There are 3 reasons for that.
First, in many states there is no law requiring that all drivers have working airbags on their vehicles.
Second, state safety inspections aren't always much focused on the dirver's safety, working airbags in particular. (For instance, in WV there is a requirement that all deployed airbags reistalled to manufacturer specifications for a salvage vehicle to be deemed safe and eligible for a Rebuilt Title. Also, for an out-of-state salvage vehicle it is necessary to apply for a WV salvage title first. ) As a result, when an accident takes place some prefer not to recharge airbags simply because it is expensive and drive their vehicles without safety bags or sell them. Although the law in many states requires that the seller inform about non-functioning aitbags, some fail to do so hoping that the deceipt will never emmerge. As a result, even used vehicles that were in accidents but were not totaled out, and so have no salvage history, may have and airbag issue.
Third, generally the vehicle becomes the propety of the insurance company in order to get a salvage or another branded title indicating total loss. If the owner decides to keep the insured totaled vehicle and fix it sometimes the vehicle may retain a normal title. Another scenario is when the owner of the damaged vehicle decides not to file insurance claim and fix the vehicle or the vehicle had no comprehensive coverage at all - in both casea it may retain a normal title.
A rebuilt vehicle could be totaled due to theft, hail damage or even a minor damage if it is 10 years old. These incidents do not cause airbag deployment. But even so the buyer aware of why and how the vehicle was totaled can still get be left to drive without airbags. If the vehicle had multiple owners and was not in an accident in the period between the first one thay deployed the airbag and the last one that totaled it, even the last seller might be unaware about this critical safety defect.
Let say, you have 10 year-old hail-damaged vehicle in view. With little cosmetic damage and yet totaled out due to depreciation which is normal for hail-beaten cars. At first sight, there is no reason to worry about airbags. But if you dig deeped you may find out that:
There was an accident 9.5 years ago with airbag deployment but the vehicle was fixed because the it's value at that time was high and it was economically sound for the insurance company to fix rather than compensate total loss. On an older vehicle an airbag deployment will most likely result in the vehicle becoming a write-off because the unsurance company will prefer not to deal with costly and complicated repairs witht he use of new parts on a devalued vehicle.
At some point the vehicle was puchchased for cash and had no compehensive coverage , got in an accident with airbag deployment but wasn't totaled and so didn't get a branded title, was fixed by the owner on his own and sold. Even the owner may be unaware that he was driving unprotected if the mechanic who fixed the vehicle was dishonest.
An accidnet with airbag deployment took place and the insurer decided to total the vehicle. But the owner decided to keep it, fix on this own for a portion of the settlement from the insurer rather than have it totaled. In this scenario, the insurer never becomes the owner of the vehicle and so it is not totaled and then registered with a Salvage title, and there is no total loss brand on the title.
That's why it is impotant to know the history. If you see an airbag deployment record and still would like to go on with that car, take a note of the following:
Was it frontal airbags or side airbag deplyoment? Fixing and reinstalling side airbags is reported to involve more trouble and so more expensive. Bigger chance of having a hidden problem.
When a rebuilt veicle gets fixed it is normal to install used parts simply because it it cheaper. Some used parts may also be used in fixing deployed airbags. Here a lot depends on how scrupulous and responsible the mechanic is. For instance, a recall may be issued on some model due to airbag safety issues Such airbags may still end up at junk yards and be used as replacement parts. They may even be functioning but still unsafe. For instance, because they cause too much pressure and so hit the driver too hard. In addition, not all junkyard store replacement parts properly in dry place. Some remain on the crashed vehicles exposed to rain and show getting inside. The massive Takata airbag recall (67 million items in the US only) was a huge blow on the possibility to install used replacement airbags and on the safety of drivers and passengers of the vehicles with replacement airbags from dismantled vehicles. These airbags may become explosive after exposure to heat or humidity and simply kill the people inside the vehicle with metal debris at deployment. So, even a functional airbag may become not just ineligible but lethal. You want to know where the replacement airbag came from, how reputable the junk yard is, how they store their parts and have the proof. It us highly recommended that only brand new airbags be used as a replacement but, unfortunatly, with rebuilt vehicles it is not always cost-effective.
Today rebuilders are smart enough to give non-functioning airbags the appearance of properly installed by tampering the indicators warning about issues with airbags so you cannot even rely on absense of alert signal on your dashboard and other indicators.
When the airbag is deployed you safety belts get a signal to tighten as well. Belt pretensioners pull down the belt. As a result, the buckle position will be lower than before. That's an extra indicator of airbag deployment that need you mechanic's attention.
Make sure there is SRS (Safety Restraint System) logo and the manufacturer’s emblem on the airbag cover. Otherwise it's just a cosmetic cover (can be bought for $15) and there is no airbag inside.
Stay safe on the road!