SACRAMENTO — Insurance companies and law enforcement agencies say that air bag theft is on the rise, leaving victims with an expensive part to replace.
“Air bag theft is here,” said Greg Williams, a California Highway Patrol investigator. “They are not difficult to steal.”
Stealing an air bag is ”10 minutes of work for a couple hundred bucks,” he said.
Not all law enforcement agencies list the components removed when a car is stolen and stripped of its valuable parts.
Airbags aren’t considered a “critical part” by the auto industry – which means they don’t bear the vehicle identification number. That makes tracking the thefts difficult.
A 1996 State Farm Insurance Co. study estimated that 18 of every 10,000 cars have air bags stolen – triple the number in 1993.
Airbags can cost up to $2,500 to replace, making them the “the single most expensive thing to replace in a minor front end collision,” Williams said.
Stolen air bags are often sold through a middleman to auto body shops for up to $200, said Mark Stowell, a special agent for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Those shops either look the other way when buying parts of questionable origin or knowingly buy the stolen bags, he said.
”(Body shops) that are working on the fringes see that as an opportunity to buy something off the streets at well below the market price,” he said.
It isn’t illegal for a body shop to sell the undeployed air bags from a wrecked or retired car.
Stowell said safety should be a concern when dealing with salvaged and possibly stolen air bags.
“It’s a safety issue but, of course, no one is going to know that until the time comes for it to deploy and it doesn’t,” Stowell said.