Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2002   by Auto Service World

Bodyshop News: Airbag Time Bomb Still Ticking

Concern continues to grow that some car owners may be sitting in front of a time bomb.

The call for car owners who may have had improperly rebuilt airbags from a Quebec company installed has gone out at least twice, with very little effect. Of the estimated 10,000 gunpowder-charged airbags rebuilt by a Quebec company and sold to parts suppliers and bodyshops across Canada, only between 200 and 300 have been located.

The original steps were taken in Quebec after the Societe de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ), the province’s automobile insurance board, successfully obtained an injunction ordering two related firms that specialized in rebuilding and selling rebuilt airbags to cease production. The firms, doing business as National Air Bags Inc. (National Sacs Gonflables) and Coussins Gonflable Demers Inc., were accused of assembling airbags using gunpowder and other explosive substances as an igniter that “literally exploded” according to the board’s petition. Tests have shown that they could put drivers at risk due to flying sparks and shrapnel.

Rebuilt airbags should not be confused with recycled airbags, which are undeployed airbags that have been recovered from dismantled vehicles. Rebuilt airbags are, in simple terms, repacked airbags with a new explosive charge installed.

Auto parts suppliers and bodyshops have been asked to assist in locating vehicle owners. Vehicle owners have who suspect they may have a defective rebuilt airbag are urged to contact their auto repair shop.

If a defective airbag cannot be replaced immediately, it should be temporarily deactivated, and a replacement airbag installed as soon as possible. Auto repair shops in Ontario have been asked to provide the ministry with Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) of affected vehicles.

An estimated 7,000 airbags were sold by the company in Quebec, with some 1,600 airbags sold by them in Ontario. There have also been airbag sales reported in other provinces. To date, only a few hundred individuals have reported to repair facilities to have airbags replaced. Quebec put a second call out to the public in mid-March due to the small number of individuals who had come forward.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation followed Quebec’s lead in February, warning motorists who own vehicles that have been involved in collisions, and have had airbags replaced or purchased vehicles that have been collision damaged, that there is a possibility that the airbags in their vehicle may be dangerous when activated. That call followed a move to contact the companies who had purchased the airbags in Ontario, in hopes they would be able to help track down car owners.

Auto repair firms and parts suppliers have also been repeatedly asked by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to contact clients in Ontario who may have purchased these unsafe, rebuilt airbags, and report their results to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

The defective rebuilt airbags have been distributed by National since early 1998. Only those vehicles in which the airbag has been replaced by a rebuilt National airbag are at risk. The defective products would have been installed in vehicles to replace an airbag that was deployed during the last four years.

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