(WASHINGTON) -- Causing a fire, not deploying or partial deployment are not how you would like to have your airbag described, but those are the words U.S. Department of Transportation administrators used Wednesday when explaining the dangers behind a stream of counterfeit airbags.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and ICE officials Wednesday warned consumers about counterfeit airbags made at overseas manufacturers and installed in cars throughout the U.S. The counterfeits have been found in more than 75 different makes and models, both domestic and internationally made cars, and could affect thousands of individuals.
Investigators cautioned that even though this affects less than 0.1 percent of vehicles, the danger to those vehicles is extreme, including airbags not deploying, partially deploying or catching fire. So far they are unaware of any death or injury from the counterfeit airbags.
Earlier this year ICE arrested and convicted a Chinese counterfeiter who was found with nine different brands of airbags. And just this year have confiscated more than 2,500 fake bags.
ICE Director John Morton explained that the counterfeits were manufactured overseas, fraudulently labeled and then illegally imported into the country.
"These seemingly genuine airbags are in fact shoddy fakes that pose a significant safety hazard when it's installed," he said. "These airbags don't work. They aren't going to save you in an accident, they are a fraud and danger from start to finish, and you don't want them in your car."
Consumers are at risk if:
- They have had the airbag replaced in the last three years at a repair shop not associated with a new car dealership.
- Purchased a used car that had its airbag replaced.
- Own a car branded salvage, rebuilt or reconstructed.
- Got a "too good to be true" deal for airbag replacement.
- Purchased their airbag from eBay, Craigslist or other non-certified outlet.
Because these faulty bags are not the fault of car manufacturers or dealers, this is not a mandatory recall and consumers would pay out of pocket to replace the airbag.
"They look like the real thing and unfortunately consumers are not in a position to figure out if they have a fake or a real airbag and they certainly wouldn't be in a position to be able to replace their own airbag," David Strickland, a NHTSA administrator, said.
Officials urge anyone who has suspicions about their airbags to take their car to an expert for testing and replacement.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio