For some reason, there’s apparently been a recent uptick in airbag thefts, and some thieves have been exclusively choosing Honda vehicles as their targets, USA Today writes in its report on the issue. Here’s a look at how bad this strange problem has gotten in some parts of the U.S.
Criminals in the U.S. have been targeting steering wheel airbags of late-model Hondas apparently to resell the safety devices to “questionable repair shops or unsuspecting online customers,” USA Today says, citing police records.
The news site mentions a string of thefts in Arlington back in July involving three apartment complex parking lots, writing:
The perpetrator or perpetrators worked methodically, breaking into 37 vehicles, according to police records obtained by USA TODAY through FOIA.
And all 37 vehicles were Hondas. Each vehicle whose model year was available in police reports was no older than the 2012 model year.
There have been similar Honda airbag theft issues in New York, where over 409 airbags have been stolen since January of 2017 according to police department figures, with the news site quoting a detective from the New York City police as saying: “The targeted cars were ‘mostly late-model Honda Accords and Civics.’”
The site also mentions Honda airbag thefts that happened back in February at a hotel parking lot in Florida:
The 14 vehicles that were targeted were all Hondas, and they were no older than the 2013 model year: five Civics, four Accords, four CR-Vs and one Pilot.
“The suspect had the same Modus Operandi,” Luis Fernandez of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, writes in his police report. “All vehicle(s) were Honda’s, the driver side lock (was) popped off and the locks were punched, and the air bags from the steering wheel were the only part taken.”
Why steering wheel airbags, and why Hondas? USA Today says airbags are valuable (replacing them can cost owners $2,000 or more) and “easy to portray as legitimate,” making them lucrative to criminals. As for why only the front airbags: Those are the ones that are more likely to need replacement than other airbags, USA today says.
The story also quotes the National Insurance Crime Bureau—who estimates that 50,000 airbags are stolen each year—as saying the following about why airbag theft is so prevalent:
“Because of their portability, airbags can be easily removed and installed as ‘new’ by unscrupulous collision repair shops,” the NICB says. “These dishonest operators will then charge the vehicle owner or their insurer the full price for the replacement, thus committing insurance fraud.”
As for why Honda airbags in particular, it seems that nobody knows. USA Today does mention the Takata airbag recalls—which affected more Honda vehicles than cars from any other brand—and even quotes chief of communications officer for the NICB as saying that recalls could have caused a short supply of airbags, and thus increased demand.
Honda denies this, telling Jalopnik over the phone that the company has “plenty of replacement inflators,” and saying that the idea that there’s a connection between the Takata recalls and the airbag thefts is “blatantly untrue.”
For one, Honda says, the recall is completely free, so there’s really no incentive for anyone to put a cheaper, stolen airbag in instead of one directly from Honda. Not to mention, when conducting a recall fix for a safety item like an airbag, Honda requires dealers to tell them which vehicle ID number has received which airbag, so that Honda knows which car has what part (this could help in case there’s another recall). Honda calls this concept a “controlled part number,” and it’s an example of how strict Honda is about knowing which airbags get used in a recall fix.
On top of that, the Honda representative told Jalopnik that the recall involves replacing an inflator, not an entire airbag module—so a recall claim would have to account for a new inflator.
USA Today even says the airbag thefts it studied did not involve vehicles covered by the Takata recall, and the site also reached out to Honda and Joyson Safety Systems (which now owns what used to be called Takata), neither of which knew of any influence of the Takata recall on the recent. Honda told the site that there ”should be no linkage” between the two, but that Hondas are victims of parts theft simply because of how popular the brand’s vehicles are.
The Honda rep told Jalopnik something similar to that last point. He said he could see how a body shop or an individual might use a stolen inflator to replace a blown airbag for cheap, but this doesn’t have to do with the recall. “It really just comes down the the number of vehicles and popularity of vehicles on the market,” Honda said.
Hondas are popular, and—as we’ve seen with catalytic converter thefts over the years—thieves will steal things that are expensive, and that take relatively little effort to remove. So it’s no surprise that people are stealing airbags. And, if we look at how common Honda car thefts have been for many years now, it’s no surprise people are stealing Honda airbags.
Honda tried making it clear that there’s nothing special about its airbag modules. They’re no easier to remove than the competition, and there’s really no difference in pricing compared to other automaker airbags,” the representative said.
The whole thing is just bizarre and unfortunate, especially for Hondas, which for whatever reason keep attracting thieves.