The US Department of Transportation has become aware of counterfeit airbags being sold as replacement parts in vehicles that have been involved in a crash, saying that owners who have had their airbag replaced within the last three years by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership are most at risk of carrying them.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these airbags look just like certified, original equipment parts, but are a “serious safety concern.” Tests revealed “consistent malfunctioning ranging from non-deployment of the airbag to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment” – the NHTSA test video above shows just how hazardous the latter can be.

The government agency believes less than 0.1% of the US vehicle fleet are affected, and are not aware of any deaths or injuries as a result of this issue thus far.

“Organized criminals are selling dangerous counterfeit and substandard airbags to consumers and suppliers with little to no regard to hazardous health and safety consequences,” said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton.

An industry official told the Associated Press that government investigators believe many of the counterfeit airbags come from China, and that they are marketed to auto repair and body shops as the real deal.

Car owners are being urged to visit a government website, www.Safercar.gov, which has information on call centres that they can contact to check if their vehicle make and model is among those for which counterfeit airbags are known to have been made, and have their vehicle inspected at their own expense and the airbag replaced if necessary.

NHTSA is currently gathering information from automakers about their parts authenticity verification systems, as well as working with other government agencies to try and prevent counterfeit airbags from being bought and installed in vehicles.