WASHINGTON -- An industry group contends air bags taken from junk vehicles are unsafe, but salvage yard owners dispute that and say such bags offer consumers a cheap alternative to new safety devices.
Replacing an air bag that has been deployed or stolen can cost $2,500 with installation, while an air bag that comes from another vehicle can be as cheap as $200.
There are no figures on how many "recycled" air bags have been installed, but the Automotive Occupant Restraints Council said more are available because 10-year-old vehicles that contained the first mass-produced air bags are showing up in greater numbers at junk yards. And, air bag thefts have been increasing because there is a ready market.
The council, made up of seat belt and air bag manufacturers, said air bags that come from other vehicles may not provide adequate protection in a crash if they have been exposed to excessive heat, shock or water.
"This is purely a safety issue," AORC President George Kirchoff said. "All restraint systems, including air bags, are designed and manufactured to very distinct requirements that are vehicle-specific."
Their campaign to convince vehicle owners to demand new air bags when they need a replacement has put them at odds with the Automotive Recyclers Association, a group that includes salvage yard owners.
The association tested 196 salvaged air bags and all worked properly, except one that had been damaged in a flood.
"Our research that we have done and is ongoing shows it is a viable use when properly installed, shipped and identified," said Michael E. Wilson of ARA.
However, ARA agrees air bags should not be put in a different model than the one for which they were manufactured and that damaged bags should not be reused.
"There are salvage people out there that aren't reputable," acknowledged ARA spokesman Brad Slater. "Professionals will use an air bag from the same type of car."
Some states have undertaken efforts to prohibit the use of recycled air bags. California passed a law last year making it a misdemeanor to sell or install air bags from other vehicles.
The New York Department of Motor Vehicles issued a rule blocking the sale of salvaged air bags but in March the state Supreme Court issued an injunction saying the state did not back its claim that such devices were unsafe.
On the Net: Automotive Recyclers Association: http:www.autorecyc.org
Automotive Occupant Restraints Council: http://www.aorc.org