If you buy a used car, you probably check to make sure the engine is in good shape, but what about the airbags? How can you be sure they are installed properly? One south Florida man was recently arrested for installing bad airbags or no airbags at all.
What began as a routine inspection at Mas Interior Repairs in Hialeah turned into a multi-agency investigation when Miami-Dade Police auto theft detectives say they found fake airbags inside several cars.
According to officials with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the vehicles with the fake airbags were headed for local car dealerships where they could’ve been sold to unsuspecting customers. The authorities say the bogus airbags would have put drivers and their loved ones at risk of injury or death.
Miami-Dade’s Office of Consumer Protection also assisted in the investigation. County Enforcement Supervisor Jorge Herrera says the vehicles were “repaired in such a way that you would never know that those airbags don’t work.” Tony Fernandez with the NICB says “if you get involved in a wreck, it’s not going to deploy which means that the person driving the vehicle or the passenger could die.”
The shop’s owner, Aristides Santiesteban, is charged with three felony counts of installing fake or junk-filled airbags. In a statement his attorney told us, “Aristides Santiesteban denies the charges against him. He owns a small business that reupholsters car interiors. Mr. Santiesteban has no criminal record and has a good reputation for honesty in the community."
Investigators say they have the evidence to prove he was swapping out airbags and sent us pictures showing piles of airbags inside the repair shop. Santiesteban is fighting those charges but has already paid a thousand dollars in fines for operating without a license. The NICB says consumers need to be aware of this potential problem to protect themselves.
To ensure that your airbags are in tip top condition, make sure the airbag light goes on when you start your car and then turns off. You can also have your vehicle inspected at an authorized dealer or run a Carfax report to see if it’s been in an accident. Fernandez says if the car was in a wreck with frontal damage “the airbag probably deployed so the airbag that I have there is either a new airbag or could be a fake airbag.”
Airbags are apparently big business. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says some 50-thousand airbags are stolen each year. While an airbag normally costs one to three thousand dollars, on the black market it goes for just 50 to 200 dollars. As for Santiesteban, he plead not guilty to the charges. His trial is set for June.