If you have purchased a used vehicle or plan to, you should know the complete history of the car. Not doing your research could have deadly consequences.
There are many online companies that can provide you with a vehicle's history. Some are free. Some charge. However, it’s well worth your time and money to be informed. Knowing a car’s history goes beyond knowing whether it was given proper maintenance, such as oil changes. You need to know if it was involved in a crash and if it was repaired correctly. Unfortunately, far too often cars are not repaired correctly and unscrupulous body shops bypass installing airbags that will not function when you need them to. If airbags do not work, there is a chance your seat belt won’t either. The time to find out that your airbags and seat belt do not work is NOT when you are involved in a crash. Be an informed driver and know your vehicle history!
"I purchased a pre-owned vehicle that is fairly new, with low mileage. I have nothing to worry about, right?" WRONG.
A new vehicle could have been crashed the day it was driven off the lot or soon thereafter. Our traffic homicide investigators have seen “rebuilt” cars that are not even six months old. Take precautions!
How to obtain a vehicle’s history:
Do an online search. There are many websites that can provide you with a vehicle’s history (examples: CarFax, Vincheckup, Autocheck, Vehiclehistory, autoDNA, etc.). The Miramar Police Department does not endorse any specific site. Do your research and choose the best one that fits your needs. You will need the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This number can usually be found on the dashboard, in the driver side door frame, on the vehicle registration or insurance card. Once you get a report you need to look out for crashes with airbag deployment, structural damage, frame damage, damages with high dollar amounts, vehicles that were towed or disabled after a crash, or had disabling damage. Any of these terms describing the damage is a red flag.
Lack of vehicle history? No records of any maintenance? That is also a red flag. Vehicles from out of the country would lack history. Crash data may not have been collected or reported.
Other signs that an airbag may have been replaced or that a vehicle was involved in a previous crash:
- An airbag cover that does not match. It might look newer, older or be a totally different color than the steering wheel.
- An airbag light that stays on or one that does not light up and turn off at engine startup is also a red flag. Typically, the airbag light will illuminate for a few seconds at startup to show you that the light is functional and the system is ready. Some cars have an airbag symbol; others may either spell out airbag or have initials “SRS.” Check the owner’s manual for the airbag symbol or letters pertaining to your car.
- Does all of the paint match? Are there areas that are shinier? Look at the door, fender, and hood gaps. Are they evenly spaced? Compare the gaps to the opposite side, they should be the same width. Look underneath and into the gaps is there paint overspray? Are fenders, doors or other areas wavy? Look at the underside of the hood (replacement parts are typically black). Sometimes the underside does not get painted completely. Look at the bolts on the door hinges and fenders for paint damage, tool marks or rust.
The biggest red flag of all is a car that is branded “rebuilt” or “salvage.” You usually can find this information on the vehicle’s title or on a sticker in the driver’s door frame. However, just because the vehicle is not branded "rebuilt" or "salvage" does it mean you are in the clear. Insurance companies usually brand vehicles as "salvage" or "rebuilt" when repairs exceed more than 80% of the value of vehicle. If a car was not insured when it was wrecked, then the car would not be reported to the state as a salvage or rebuilt vehicle. Owners of these vehicles can repair them cheaply and unload them on someone else.
You found damage or information that your car’s airbag(s) and seat belt(s) were replaced. Now what?
Have a competent mechanic that has the proper training AND equipment check that your airbags and seat belts were properly replaced and will function in a crash. The dealership of your car’s make would be a logical choice. Most independent mechanics do not have the training or the expensive equipment to do this.
Bottom line - airbags and seat belt pretension systems are very expensive to replace, costing thousands of dollars. A new airbag on average typically costs $2,500. That does not include the airbag control module or sensors. For unscrupulous body shops, this is a huge temptation to make a fraudulent and illegal profit while risking your life. These body shops will buy a used airbag that may have been exposed to the elements, taken from a flood-damaged vehicle, etc. and pay as little as $200. These used airbags may not work correctly. The lack of an airbag malfunction warning light is not a guarantee that the airbags are functional. Unscrupulous mechanics have figured out how to disable these warning lights.
Don’t assume that your car, or the car your loved one is driving, was repaired correctly!
Improperly replacing airbags is against the law. If you know of a body shop doing so, please contact your local law enforcement agency.
These are examples of airbags sold online. The first airbag (L) shown has been exposed to elements, possibly submerged. The second and third airbags are passenger side airbags with rust and discoloration. The fourth airbag shows signs of excessive moisture. The backside of this airbag would be hidden from sight when installed. This is why it is important to get your car checked if you know or suspect that your airbag has been replaced: all of these airbags are unlikely to deploy, yet they are being sold to someone who will install them in a vehicle.