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Airbags and the insurance industry

Blown Airbags
Airbags are an accepted green part in the States so why not here? That's a lot of value we are destroying when we deploy them.
Airbags are probably the most valuable element (after the engine and box) of a premature end of life vehicle, yet in the UK we are not meant to sell them. This isn’t a legal requirement but more the instruction of the insurance industry. So why don’t they want us to sell them?

I understand that this is a safety related item and I also recognise that this means that airbags must be inspected and passed by a trained member of staff prior to any sale. What I don’t understand is that in the USA, the land of litigation, there is no problem selling used airbags. So what’s so different?

Insurance is a global game now with many insurance companies operating both in the States and Europe, so why this change in stance around the globe? In the States, that ARA (America’s equivalent to our MVDA) have introduced codes of practice, training programmes and an audit for members to make sure airbags are being processed correctly. That includes everything from inspection, original vehicle records, correct interchange information for re-use, etc - not only is the airbag OK but it is only going to be fitted to the correct vehicle.

So for an American dismantler to sell airbags, he has to be an ARA member, anyone handling the airbags must have the correct training, records must be kept and they must be regularly audited to make sure they are complying to ARA’s requirements. Take a look at this ARA leaflet for more detailed information.

So what’s the situation here? The vast majority of insurance companies stipulate that airbags must not be sold. That’s all very well but this is a bit like putting a kid in a sweet shop and telling him not to eat the sweets. They sell you a vehicle with high value items and then tell you they shouldn’t be sold, even though there is nothing wrong them. Come on, fitting used airbags will often make the difference between a vehicle being repaired or not.

This raises another issue. The insurance industry are desperate to take as much money from us as possible for salvage. They must be aware that if they deployed all the airbags then the price of salvage would take a big hit. I am not suggesting that they don’t deploy them to keep the price of salvage up but if they were serious about their re-use, that is what they should do. After all, they would surely have a duty of care to do so if this was their belief. Let’s face it, there are companies specialing in exactly this service that they could easily ring up and get the job done, but they don’t.

So if it isn’t enough of a safety issue that the insurers feel they have a duty of care to destroy or remove these airbags prior to salvage being sold, then what are the insurers not happy about? We have already mentioned that they are happy with their use in the States, and tests over there have more than demonstrated that there is no greater risk form a correctly checked, used OEM airbag than a brand new one. So we have to ask ourselves, "What's the issue here?"

Maybe the question comes back to the dismantler. We as an industry have not offered the insurance industry the service to give them the confidence in our supply chain. The MVDA has not set up training in airbags and I not aware that they have held meetings with the insurance industry to see what can be done. I feel it is an area that the MVDA should be working on. Unfortunately, the MVDA is not supported by the UK dismantling industry in a similar way to the ARA is in the States. If they were they would have the financial muscle to do these things. In the States, everyone supports the ARA which means they have the strength to get these deals and arrangements. There is nothing different about the airbags in American cars, just the job the auto recycling industry has done to demonstrate that properly tested and checked airbags are as safe as new ones. I know I say it all the time (and honest, I am not on commission), but if we want a good future we need a good trade body looking after us - this example is just another reason why we should all be in MVDA. By not selling airbags we are throwing away a subtantial value of each vehicle. I think we should be fighting to change that.

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