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The hottest item on the automotive black market may make your car a target for thieves


Updated February 26, 2019 10:00 AM EST

Editor's note: This article was first published Nov. 15, 2018.

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Police suggest hiding valuables in your car to deter thieves from breaking in to it. However, a new rash of crimes shows that not all valuables can be hidden.

Across the country, especially in major cities, criminals are breaking into cars and stealing air bags. According to officials with the National Insurance Crime Bureau and Carfax, it's not a new crime, but one that's becoming increasingly popular.

"In the last few years, we've seen probably a lot more reports of it going on because the value of air bags has increased,” said Roger Morris, NICB chief communications officer. "They can draw a couple hundred dollars from someone that’s willing to buy stolen air bags."

"An air bag can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 to replace, but can cost pennies on the dollar to get a stolen, black-market air bag unit.”
Chris Basso, Carfax

Chris Basso from Carfax agrees the market is growing for criminals.

"It happens every year. About 50,000 air bags were stolen each year," he said. "An air bag can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $3,000 to replace, but can cost pennies on the dollar to get a stolen, black-market air bag unit."

Mechanics at Circle Auto Repair in Fairfax, Virginia, provided a demonstration of just how quickly your air bag can be stolen. In some runs, it took about a minute. The fastest session was about 35 seconds. The general manager of the shop, Matt Bolton, says you don't even have to be a professional mechanic to post similar times. All of the resources that criminals need are affordable and on the internet.

Rabiah binti Ibrahim
In this Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 photo, the exploded air bag that injured Rabiah binti Ibrahim, hangs from her steering wheel in her Honda City in Slim River, Malaysia. (AP Photo/Lim Huey Teng)

"You can go online and find millions of tutorials on how to do any of these, how to take your bags out of these cars," Bolton explained. "Some of those tools aren't even more than, you know, $10 or $20."

Basso says once the air bags are stolen, they are sold either to questionable repair shops or online. According to Bolton, you can protect yourself by purchasing a bar that locks your steering wheel. That way, thieves will be forced to destroy the steering wheel entirely to get the air bag. The NICB also suggests getting your air bags' history report if any have been recently replaced. Then, you'll know if it has previously deployed or belongs to a separate vehicle. Best-case scenario is to just get a replacement from a certified dealership.

"There are some fraudulent auto shops and repair shops out there that will do anything to make a buck," Morris explained. "Unfortunately, that we see too much of it. So, you know, you have to be very careful buying a replacement air bag."

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