Been in a car crash? Don't miss this alert

Counterfeiting always hurts businesses that lose sales of real goods, but often causes only trivial harm to the people who buy the fakes. If you're foolish enough to spend $10 on a fake Rolex watch or sports jersey, your life isn't at risk.

Not this time. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put out a warning today to anyone who has been in a car crash during the last three years and had someone other than a new-car dealer replace a vehicle's air bags, or who purchased a new air bag online to make such a repair: 

NHTSA has become aware of a problem involving the sale of counterfeit air bags for use as replacement parts in vehicles that have been involved in a crash. While these air bags look nearly identical to certified, original equipment parts—including bearing the insignia and branding of major automakers—NHTSA testing showed consistent malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the air bag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.

NHTSA says the problem hasn't been linked so far to any deaths or injuries, and only appears to concern 0.1 percent of U.S. passenger vehicles - though that's enough to mean that nearly 200,000 vehicles are potentially at risk.

Its advice:

Consumers whose vehicles have been in a crash and had their air bags replaced by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership within the past three years or who have purchased a replacement air bag online should contact the call center that has been established by their auto manufacturer to have their vehicle inspected at their own expense and their air bag replaced if necessary.

A list of call centers and additional information are available at www.SaferCar.gov.

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