GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - In February, Target 8 discovered used cars sold in West Michigan with faulty airbag systems or no airbags at all. Now, Target 8 is finding out if state lawmakers are doing anything about it.
Arturo Esquivel parked his car and wouldn't drive it after he saw the February Target 8 investigation.
The investigation prompted Esquivel to get his airbags checked out. Mechanics told him that not only were there no air bags, but the light bulb that lights up the no air bag warning signal was also missing.
Esquivel bought his car at Lee Auto Export in Grand Rapids.
In February, Lee Auto's Molly Ly told Target 8 that she never sold a vehicle without air bags without telling the customer, but one driver told Target 8 he had no idea his vehicle didn't have an air bag when he bought it and filed a lawsuit.
The state investigated Lee Auto after an airbag complaint and put it on a two-year probation for other violations involving record-keeping.
Ly recently told Target 8 over the phone that Esquivel knew what he was buying. But, she said, since the February investigation, she now puts it in writing when a car doesn't have working air bags.
"And I didn't suspect anything until I actually saw the WOOD TV8 report saying that Lee Auto was selling autos without air bags," said Esquivel. "And I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I could be one of those people.'"
Esquivel isn't alone. Since February, several people contacted Target 8 via ReportIt after finding they didn't have air bags in their car.
So who's protecting you?
A high-profile case in California prompted lawmakers there to step up. In 2008, 18-year-old Bobby Ellsworth was killed in a crash. His air bags didn't deploy and investigators found the airbag compartment stuffed with paper. The owner of the auto body shop responsible later committed suicide.
Since then, California and other states including Florida now prohibit dealerships from selling cars without air bags.
But Michigan has no such law and nothing in the works.
"I think in Michigan we say the people can make their own decision on whether they want a car with air bags or not," Secretary of State Ruth Johnson told Target 8. "I think giving the people the right to make the decision is important."
Johnson said her office will fine and even take a dealership's license away for dishonest practices. But it's up to consumers to file a complaint for the state to investigate.
"To say that there's air bags and there's not, that's egregious," said Johnson. "And it is against the law."
AAA traffic safety manager Jack Peet said a new law may have an impact on safety, but likely wouldn't be practical.
"It would be a very hard law to enforce," explained Peet. "I'm not necessarily a proponent of just automatically doing a law. There are other options."
Peet said forcing dealerships to put in writing that a vehicle doesn't have working air bags could be the better route. That's the way Rhode Island has combated the problem.
Target 8 reached out to several lawmakers for comment, but all declined to weigh in on the subject.
When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied about 1,500 deadly crashes, one in five vehicles had no air bags. They'd never been replaced after a previous crash.
CarFax keeps tabs on cars that have had deployed air bags.
Experts recommend taking a used car to a dealership that has certified mechanics to work on that brand's air bag system and have them inspect it before you sign the final papers.
"It could be the decision whether you live or die in an accident," said Esquivel. "That's what they're there for. It's a safety issue."
He said he'll check everything before he closes the deal on his next car.
Air bag basics
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