"There was a thought: how much of this is going on?" Nantau says. "We talked to State Farm and they gave us information that said they paid for 379 airbags on the '99 Taurus during 2003, and we looked at our sales and saw that we sold 40 new airbags.
"Now there are cases where dealers have airbags in inventory, and they didn't necessarily buy them from us during that time period; they may have sold them from inventory. But it was still an unbelievable number," he says.
Since State Farm is the nation's largest auto insurer, these numbers were startling enough to cause Ford to take drastic action and, with the help of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, create a serial number tracking system that would guarantee that fraudulent airbags could be pinpointed.
"Part of that investigation could be pulling the airbag out and inspecting the serial number. They can then go to our website and input that serial number. Now the serial number would tell them either that it was one that had already been reported as installed, which means we sold it already and somebody put it in, inspected it and went to our website," Nantau says. "If that's the case, then they have a problem. And in the worst case, it's not in our database at all. Then it's not a part that Ford Customer Service Division sold. If they couldn't produce an invoice from a Ford dealer, then they've obviously picked it up at a fraudulent repair division."
Keeping your Conscience Clear
What's good for the insurance companies has also been good for Ford. "We have, over the years, tried to work with insurance companies to find areas that we have a common interest in—you know, they buy parts to repair vehicles from us, and we sell them," Nantau says.
Unfortunately Ford does not have the statistics compiled that show the type of affect this has had in deterring fraud-related crimes. Still, giving your insurance provider the ability to keep a close watch on the parts as they leave the factory and enter a vehicle should allow you to sleep a little more easily at night. This is clearly a step in the right direction in keeping the interests of drivers, insurers, manufacturers, and a fleet's bottom dollar in mind.
An undeployed airbag is like a loaded gun; make sure your technicians take proper precautions under the dash and under the hood.
Carfax advises consumers about free airbag checking.