August 18, 2005

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Sen. Leonard A. Fasano and the Auto Body Association of Connecticut (ABAC) announced today that they will join forces to stop an Alabama company from selling replacement air bag covers without the air bags in Connecticut and to crack down on the practice.

Blumenthal is exploring legal action against Hicks Air Bag Covers of Laceys Spring, Ala., which aggressively markets its air bag covers in Connecticut and nationwide as an inexpensive alternative to installing replacement air bags. Hicks may be violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act or other laws.

The attorney general, Sen. Fasano and ABAC also will push legislation imposing a total ban on the sale and installation of air bag covers without air bags. Florida, New York and other states have recently enacted similar laws.

“Selling fake air bag covers is likely illegal under state law – and appallingly irresponsible under any standard,” Blumenthal said. “The company’s products pose a particular danger to passengers and second-hand car buyers unlikely or unable to know whether an air bag cover is fake. The result is vehicular Russian roulette, with losers facing possible death or severe injury. Devices so clearly sacrificing safety should be stopped.

“Federal law prohibits auto repairers or dealers from installing air bag covers without air bags in vehicles whose bags have deployed. Individual non-professionals are not covered by current law. Once a cover is installed, a consumer may not know whether an air bag in underneath. One means of checking is to look for a manufacturer’s logo, which is likely to be missing if the air bag cover is bogus. The dangers are illustrated by the 2003 death of a Washington woman driving a car with a fake air bag cover.

“My office will aggressively seek to determine whether legal action against Hicks Auto Body is warranted. I will also work with Sen. Fasano, other lawmakers and the ABAC to fully ban the sale and installation of phony air bag covers and to institute tough civil and criminal penalties against those who endanger the public with this deadly deception,” Blumenthal added.

“This is a major public safety concern so I am hopeful that we can make Connecticut motorists aware of this dangerous practice. Right now, there may be citizens driving around who unknowingly purchased a used car whose airbag was not properly replaced,” said Senator Fasano, who represents East Haven, North Haven, and Wallingford. “It is unconscionable that any company would install fake airbags and put motorists at risk simply to earn a few extra dollars. I plan to aggressively pursue new legislation that specifically prohibits the sale of these ‘fake’ air bags so Connecticut drivers can rest assured that their air bags function properly.”

“I was shocked when I received an advertisement in the mail from this company,” said ABAC representative Bill Denya, who owns a garage in Meriden. “As an auto repairer, my top priority is to fix vehicles so they are safe to drive. ABAC is always very concerned about safety issues. These fake air bag covers endanger public safety and should be outlawed. I applaud the actions announced today by Attorney General Blumenthal and Sen. Fasano.

“When buying a used vehicle, motorists should check for the maker’s logo on the bag cover. No logo is a good indication that the cover is a fake, and there’s no air bag underneath.”

On its web site and in mailings to Connecticut auto body shops, Hicks Air Bags openly touts its product as a cheap substitute for new air bags in damaged vehicles. Its covers, which come in 50 colors and fit virtually every vehicle make and model, cost $75 to $85. That’s compared to $600 to $700 for a new air bag.

“Expensive air bags not for you? Here’s an affordable alternative to restore your car’s interior without them,” reads a Hicks Air Bags mailer recently sent to a Connecticut auto body shop.

Another piece of company promotional material reads, “Look good for less with our cosmetic, nonfunctional replacement covers.”

In 2003, Hicks owner Lawrence G. Hicks pled guilty in federal court to selling counterfeit General Motors air bag covers to individuals, auto body shops and used car dealerships for use in repairing damaged vehicles. Hicks admitted selling more 4,600 of the counterfeits in 1999 and 2000.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that air bags saved about 2,500 lives in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Anyone who knows or suspects a fake air cover has been installed on a vehicle should ball Blumenthal’s office at (860) 808-5400. Denya also asked consumers to report fake air bag covers to ABAC at (860) 848-0534.