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Dangerous air bags being reused putting drivers at risk

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's a problem that could be sitting inside the steering wheel of the very car you're driving or the one you're interested in buying at a used-car dealership.

WREG has uncovered new troubles with recalled Takata air bags despite an attempt to get them out of cars and off the roads.

Chris Basso is the public relations manager for Carfax.

Basso told WREG, "Unfortunately, many people may not know until it's too late."

He said that's what happened to a young woman in Nevada recently.

According to multiple reports, an exploding Takata air bag sent shrapnel into Karina Dorado's trachea.

However, Basso said what happened in her case isn't just about a recalled air bag. In fact, the inflator had been replaced twice.

It's what it was replaced with that's causing new concerns.

"The Nevada woman's father had purchased a wrecked car that had been fixed using recycled air bags. Unfortunately, those recycled air bags were recalled potential for explosion."

If you've never heard of the idea of recycling air bags, you're not alone. However, Basso said it's a common practice.

As long as the air bag hasn't deployed, it can be reused.

"Oftentimes when a car is wrecked, you'll find body shops will use a recycled air bag versus using an original manufacturer air bag."

According to Basso, some 750,000 deployed air bags are replaced annually and many with recycled air bags from scrapped vehicles.

Recycled air bags are cheaper, and in theory, there's nothing wrong with the practice.

"The problem is when these air bags aren't properly checked, it can allow these recalled air bags to slip through the cracks."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 70 million Takata air bag inflators will be recalled by 2019.

Despite being about three years into the process, dealers like Landers Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Southaven are still replacing air bags on a daily basis.

Service director Larry Force said they're now at the height of repairs for passenger side air bags.

"We do normally anywhere from 10 to 15 cars a day."

Shop foreman Mitch Collier demonstrated for WREG what it's like to replace the driver's side air bag.

No matter whether it's a replacement for a recall or a traditional repair, dealerships like Landers only use new air bags that come directly from the manufacturer.

They also supply local body shops with new parts.

When Landers is replacing a recalled air bag, Force said the old one goes back into the box and is shipped back to the manufacturer.

However, there are several ways old air bags get a new life.

Force said as he understands it, "After market companies acquire used air bags or used shells, and then rebuild them and then remarket them."

Basso said old air bags can end up in body shops and even salvage yards. These days, there are a number of old Takata bags floating around.

"They can be put into a car unintentionally and have disastrous results," added Basso.

There is a way to learn more about the air bags in your car or a used car you're about to buy.

CarFax has an air bag check tool, and users can see if a deployment, and therefore replacement, was ever reported.

Basso said if air bags have been replaced, consumers should check with a mechanic, and he or she can then trace the air bag's history with just one number.

"They can remove the air bag cover, look at the serial number and figure out where that air bag came from, if it's a recycled unit and if it's been recalled."

If someone is buying a used car, this provides a method for determining the air bag's origin and any potential problems.

Also, experts said if motorists are in an accident and need repairs, that person can insist the body shop use original manufacturer parts.