Automotive recyclers who follow the ARA Product Services protocol all carry multimillion-dollar liability insurance policies to back up the certification, Wilson told Edmunds.
Nevertheless, critics contend that using recycled airbags is both unsafe and legally messy.
Because airbags are highly susceptible to moisture and temperature, they could be problematic even before they're extracted from the junked vehicle, explained Erica Eversman, an attorney and founder of the Automotive Education and Policy Institute in Akron, Ohio. The nonprofit organization aims to inform both consumers and auto repair professionals.
For example, if the junked car had been in an accident during a rainstorm and the airbag was exposed to rainwater, it still may no longer be viable even though it was never deployed, she said.
Additionally, "There are no laws about how the airbag has to be removed, how the airbag is stored, how the airbag has to be treated prior to any transport," she said.
In a letter to Edmunds after initial publication of this story, Wilson disputed Eversman's assertion. He cited a law that Rhode Island passed in 2010, mandating an inspection protocol that suppliers of recycled non-deployed airbags must follow. The installer must also retain a certificate of conformance for the recycled non-deployed airbag module.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers that tests cars and studies car safety, has said that it also has concerns about the safety of salvaged airbags. It cautions consumers to use them only if it's not possible to buy a new airbag module, and urges them to ensure that the airbag module has been inspected and certified.
IIHS also warned that the use of salvaged airbag modules "is likely to exacerbate the already significant problem of airbag theft." Stolen airbags can be sold at low prices to unethical repair shop owners who then charge customers standard prices for replacement airbags, IIHS said.