CONSUMERS THAT SHOULD NOT BE AT RISK:
• Consumers who purchased their vehicle new and have not had their air bags replaced
• Consumers who have full knowledge of the entire history of their used vehicle (including knowing whether the vehicle had been in a crash in the last three years and being certain that the air bag was replaced at a new car dealership)
CONSUMERS THAT MAY BE AT RISK AND SHOULD CONTACT THE CALL CENTER ESTABLISHED BY THEIR AUTO MANUFACTURER:
• Consumers who have had air bags replaced within the past three years at a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership
• Consumers who have purchased a used car that may have sustained an air bag deployment before their purchase
• Consumers who own a car with a title branded salvage, rebuilt, or reconstructed
• Consumers who have purchased replacement air bags from eBay or other non-certified sources - especially if they were purchased at unusually low prices (i.e. less than $400)
Chattanooga drivers could be driving automobiles fitted with counterfeit airbags that will not inflate during a collision, safety officials warned on Wednesday.
Instead of protecting the driver, the airbags may expel metal shrapnel during deployment, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The fake bags were installed in vehicles that were in a crash and had the air bags replaced within the last three years by a shop that is not part of a new car dealership, according to the administration, or could have been ordered online by consumers.
The government has encouraged drivers to visit SaferCar.gov to find out if their vehicle could be affected. The fake airbags can be found in an estimated 250,000 vehicles, or 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet.
"Any time equipment that is critical to protecting drivers and passengers fails to operate properly, it is a serious safety concern," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement released Wednesday. "We want consumers to be immediately aware of this problem and to review our safety information to see if their vehicle could be in need of inspection."
Officials have prosecuted a number of counterfeiters posing as legitimate sales agents who are actually peddling dangerous cargo.
Chinese businessman Dai Zhensong in 2012 was convicted in Chattanooga of selling hundreds of counterfeit airbags through a company in which he was a partner, Guangzhou Global Auto Parts International Group Co. Ltd.
Zhensong was sentenced to three years and one month in federal prison after U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement agents caught six boxes packed with 68 of the counterfeitter's fake airbags.
He admitted that the Chinese company manufactures thousands of airbags each month and charges $50 to $70 for the items that typically retail for about $1,000.
About 2,500 fake airbags have been seized this year, including 1,600 in North Carolina that agents confiscated from an auto mechanic with ties to Zhensong.
"Organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit and substandard airbags to consumers and suppliers with little to no regard to hazardous health and safety consequences," said ICE Director John Morton. "We will continue to aggressively investigate criminal supply chains with our law enforcement and private industry partners and bring these criminals to justice."
It can cost $100 for consumers to check the airbag, which may bear the manufacturer's logo and look exactly like an airbag made by an auto manufacturers.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.