Stolen Airbags: A Lucrative Business

By North Miami Beach Chief of Police William “Bill” Hernandez, MSM

The latest overnight incident in one of the North Miami Beach neighborhoods was a rash of vehicle break-ins in which roaming miscreants prowled various parking lots looking to pounce. Indeed, with relative ease, they have been ripping out of the cars the pricey part they were targeting – the airbags.  

“Because of their portability, airbags can easily be removed as a complete module and installed as “new” by unscrupulous collision repair shops,” the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) stated.  A thief pops an unprotected airbag out of a steering column by unscrewing a few bolts and snipping a couple of wires. It takes about 60 seconds. The experts say that airbags are rapidly surpassing car stereos and hubcaps as the prime target of the automotive black market. Stolen airbags are in high demand because they have a street value to crooks.

“If it wasn’t for corrupt repair shops, airbag theft wouldn’t exist,” said Jon Hoch of the NICB, which tracks auto-related theft. “They are the people recruiting crooks, and they are what’s driving demand.” The airbag black market is just as driven by supply and demand as any other. 

Because airbags are specific to car makes and models, black market dealers often put in orders for certain vehicle kinds. For example, the Hondas are popular targets. The dishonest mechanic, who bought the stolen airbag illegally for $200, will then charge the vehicle owners or their insurer the full price for the replacement, thus committing insurance fraud.

However, investigators note that putting airbags thieves out of business is a much more daunting task. “The problem law enforcement has is that the serial numbers on airbags are concealed inside the bag,” observes Jerry Smith, who investigates car theft in the Washington, D.C. area for the Insurance Crime Bureau. The insurance industry and police are pressing carmakers to code the bags with the vehicle’s identification number. That would allow the police to quickly check to see if the bag has been stolen. As it now stands, before the car manufacturers could design an airbag so it would not work if it is stolen, there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of your airbag being stolen. Many of them will help prevent car theft in general:

Use a steering wheel locking device, like “The Club”.

Park in a well-lit location

Keep your car locked

Do not leave valuables in plain sight.

Lastly, airbag theft is a growing concern for car owners, police and insurance companies. Therefore, if you have seen anything at all that might be suspicious in the area; the North Miami Beach Police wants you to call 911 right away or 305-949-5500. Additionally, if you suspect Insurance Fraud or Theft, SPEAK UP! Call the NCIB TOLL-FREE HOTLINE: 1-800-835-6422. Your call is free. Your call can be anonymous. You could be eligible for a reward.