We rely on airbags to save lives in a car crash.
Your airbag may fail, and not because of a defect. Airbags are the third most stolen car part, behind stereos and wheels.
Approximately 50,000 airbags a year are stolen in the US.
That's because they are expensive to replace, and thieves and shady repair shops can make big profits at the expense of your personal safety.
Janelle Smith, a law enforcement official, says, "There is a lot of money involved and the criminals that are doing this are very good."
"This is a purely profit-driven scam," adds Christopher Basso, from Carfax.
An airbag system costs as much as $3,000 to replace. Thieves sell them for about $150.
Shops can install the stolen bags, or just covers with no airbag at all.
"The insurance company is paying for an actual airbag to be replaced. If the unscrupulous repair shop is using a stolen air bag or not replacing it all, they're pocketing thousands of dollars that the insurance company is paying out and defrauding that insurance company as well as the car owner," Basso explains.
Of course, airbag fraud puts driver’s lives at risk.
"It may or may not work. The issue becomes whether or not that's compatible with the other parts in the system," says George Sanders, an auto repair expert.
Reputable repair shops say they know about airbag fraud first hand.
They see cars repaired at disreputable shops where the airbag replacement is obviously a sham.
Basso says, "They don't replace it at all and just use rags or packing peanuts instead, duping the consumer."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a crash test that shows what happens when a counterfeit air bag deploys.
There is no protection.
"With a scam like airbag fraud, most people don't know they're a victim until it's too late," Basso explains.
Carfax allows consumers a free check to see if an air bag has deployed in a vehicle before you buy it.
Using the vehicle VIN number will show an alert if the car's air bag has ever deployed.
A St. Joe County police investigator told WNDU that he knows it is happening here, but most people do not report it, because the theft is usually from a vehicle that is being scrapped or is already totaled.
He says some shady used car dealers are taking the airbags out and selling the cars without them.
The best advice is to take any used car you are thinking of buying to a mechanic you trust to give it a once over, or use that free service from Carfax.
To get started, go to www.carfax.com/airbag