Don’t let dealer deny ‘Air Bag Sur­prise’ – it hap­pens

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMANCARS - By Tom and Ray Magliozzi

Dear Tom and Ray:

I hope you can help me. My rear pas­sen­ger-side air bag de­ployed, along with the pas­sen­ger-side mid bag and the win­dow shield. There was no im­pact. I was mov­ing at 35 to 40 mph on a smooth road with no pot­holes. I took the car to the dealer to get the prob­lem fixed. They said it was not their prob­lem and that I must have hit some­thing.

They saw a mark on the wheel and said I set off the bag when I hit a curb. OK … so I hit a curb, but it was two weeks be­fore the bag ex­ploded. I don’t think air bags have that kind of de­layed re­ac­tion.

So the ques­tion is: Where do I go to get the dealer to do the right thing? What fed­eral or state agency should I re­port this to? My in­surance com­pany knows about it and is try­ing to help. How­ever, I want to be sure the dealer fixes what it should fix. What do I do to hold their feet to the fire?

— Eileen P.S.: It is a Mercedes E350, and I have found an­other case like this on­line.

Ray: Ah, yes. The old “Air Bag Sur­prise.” Very ex­cit­ing!

Tom: We’ve found that deal­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers get squir­relly when air bags go off when they’re not sup­posed to.

Ray: It’s not just Mercedes, Eileen. They’re all deathly afraid of ad­mit­ting li­a­bil­ity in cases like this. You can imag­ine that if an air bag goes off with­out rea­son, it can cause an ac­ci­dent rather than pre­vent one.

Tom: And you can imag­ine what a hor­ri­ble pub­lic-re­la­tions dis­as­ter it would be if word got out that some

Con­tin­ued from D man­u­fac­turer’s air bags were pop­ping off on their own.

But once in a blue moon, air bags do de­ploy on their own. Dur­ing the past 20 years or so, 43 ve­hi­cles have been re­called for “sur­prise” air-bag de­ploy­ment.

But in our ex­pe­ri­ence, un­til a re­call is ac­tu­ally is­sued, man­u­fac­tur­ers tend to play dumb or blame the cus­tomer when this hap­pens. So I have a sad feel­ing that you’re not go­ing to get real sat­is­fac­tion.

So if they con­tinue to in­sist that you had an ac­ci­dent when you clearly didn’t, and no one higher up in the Mercedes hi­er­ar­chy will help you, then you have to wait for the feds to force them to act. You can as­sist in that process by fil­ing a com­plaint with the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

That’s the fed­eral agency that mon­i­tors safety com­plaints. If it sees a pat­tern of com­plaints about a cer­tain ve­hi­cle, it’ll open up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion turns up ev­i­dence of a de­fect, it can is­sue a re­call.

Mean­while, I’d in­sist — or get your in­surance com­pany to in­sist — that your dealer re­place not only the de­ployed air bags but also the car’s air-bag con­trol unit, which would be my first guess as to the source of the prob­lem. But it’s just a guess.

And file your re­port with the high­way safety agency at www.safer­ or by call­ing 888-327-4236.

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