MIAMI – Matthew Haynes said he was really excited about driving his new 2018 Honda Civic in Miami-Dade County until he woke up and realized the car's airbag had vanished.
The car's lock had popped off the drivers side door, and there was a hole in the steering wheel. The car was parked in the area of Southwest 108th Avenue and 108 Street.
"Now I have to go get that replaced," Haynes said, adding that his car was "kind of out of commission for a little bit."
Haynes wasn't the only victim. When he walked out of his home, there were two Miami-Dade Police Department patrol cars and officers were talking to other victims. These type of crimes are a growing trend.
About 50,000 airbags are stolen every year and sold on the black market for hundreds of dollars, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Miami-Dade County is considered a hotspot for the crime.
In January of 2018, Local 10 News reported an uptick of breakins in Broward County where airbags were ripped out of the steering wheels. Most of the vehicles targeted are Honda Civics. The burglars are cutting open the steering wheel to extract the air bag.
Detectives say the thieves are reselling them in the black market to collision repair shops that are charging insurers and car owners the full price. Experts say the bags in Honda Civics could be in short supply due to Takata airbag recalls and the demand could also be linked to the popularity of the cars, but no one knows for sure.
Authorities do know that the thefts are linked to rampant fraud. While an airbag could cost between $1,000 to $3,000 with labor cost, the thieves are selling them on eBay, Amazon and other sites for about $200 to $300, according to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
The danger is the stolen or salvaged airbags can be detected only after they fail to deploy in a crash, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Detectives were asking anyone with information about the thieves who are buying and selling the airbags to call Miami-Dade County Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477 or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 1-800-835-6422.
Here is a list of NICB's prevention tips to help avoid airbag fraud and theft:
- Use a reputable automobile collision repair shop that employs ASE-certified mechanics.
- Inspect the invoice to ensure the repair shop purchased the airbag from a manufacturer, dealer or recycler.
- If possible, inspect the airbag prior to installation. If new, it should be packaged in a sealed container from the manufacturer.
- The trim cover over the steering column should be the same color as the remaining trim interior. If not, it is an indication that the original airbag has been replaced.
- When you turn on your vehicle's ignition, a red SRS (Supplemental Restraint System) indicator should light up and flash in the instrument panel display, indicating the airbag system is activated. No SRS light indicates a problem with the airbag system that could result in no airbag activation.