Alarmed at the rising incidence of counterfeit air bags being sold and installed as legitimate replacement units in vehicles that have been involved in a severe crash, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has just issued a consumer safety advisory to warn both vehicle owners and repair professionals about the potential life-threatening dangers created by these substandard parts.

While the scope of this problem -- which is believed to involve less than 0.1 percent of the total U.S. fleet -- remains under investigation, NHTSA has identified the vehicles most at risk. They include any car, truck or van that had its airbags replaced during the previous three years at a repair shop that's was not part of a new-car dealership organization. It also cautioned owners who may have purchased replacement airbags online that they also face similar threats to their safety.

According to NHTSA, the air bags in question often appear virtual identical to certified original parts right down to the manufacturer's brand marks but have shown consistent malfunctions during testing that range from simple non-deployment to the expulsion of metal shrapnel when they do activate. At this point, no deaths or injuries have been directly connected to any of these bogus bags.

Any owner who believes their vehicle may be fitted with a counterfeit airbag is urged to contact its manufacturer's call center and have the car or truck inspected -- at the owner's expense -- to see if the bag is an approved original part or needs to be replaced. A comprehensive list of call centers and as well as additional information can be found at www.SaferCar.gov.

To view the official NHTSA test video, click here.

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