By on October 17, 2018

Airbag crime is on the rise around the country, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and a recent report from USA Today. However, the latter of the two sources claims the issue is exponentially worse for Honda owners and nobody has any idea why.

“There’s no way for us to really know because owners don’t report to us when parts have been stolen,” Honda spokesman Chris Martin told the news outlet. “But we are certainly not unaware of the fact that Hondas have been a target of parts theft for many years simply based on the popularity of models in this market.”

We’re inclined to agree. Until recently, Hondas were the favored target of thieves for what seemed like an eternity. Thanks in part to their massive sales volume, the Civic and Accord topped everyone’s most-stolen lists throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, the NICB’s running tally shows these two models still hold top honors as the United States’ most stolen vehicles.

While they may have been replaced in recent years by the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry, thieves have managed to snag at least 45,000 Civics and 43,700 Accords since the NICB started keeping tabs on vehicle thefts. Meanwhile, only about 13,300 Altimas and 17,300 Camrys have vanished into the night in the same timeframe.

Now there’s a new problem. Criminals are swiping airbags out of Honda’s and leaving the rest of the car intact. Citing an example from Natalie Aviña-Lopez, who was visiting Disneyland at the time of the theft, USA Today claimed it cost her $2,000 — including her $500 insurance deductible — to have the part replaced.

“My first reaction was shock,” the woman said. “Like, what the hell? Why do they need an airbag?”

That sizable bill from the repair shop should have answered the question for her. But the NICB provides further explanation on why criminals might want to target airbags. “Because of their portability, airbags can be easily removed and installed as ‘new’ by unscrupulous collision repair shops,” the NICB said. “These dishonest operators will then charge the vehicle owner or their insurer the full price for the replacement, thus committing insurance fraud.”

Still, that doesn’t explain the sudden surge in airbag thefts or why Hondas have become the popular choice. Some speculate that it’s related to the Takata airbag recall, which affected 37 million U.S. vehicles. While Honda wasn’t the only manufacturer involved in the recall, it was one of the biggest. But most criminals would have no way of knowing whether or not a car on the street has undergone repairs. Even though Honda has managed to replace the majority of the affected parts, it seems unlikely that a thief would be content to play those odds.

From USA Today:

But of the individual episodes of airbag theft reviewed by USA TODAY, none of the Honda vehicles targeted were subject to the Takata recall. All were newer models. Honda’s Martin said there “should be no linkage” between the Takata recall and airbag theft.

Andreas Bartelt, spokesperson for airbag maker Joyson Safety Systems, which owns the operation formerly known as Takata, says in an email that the company has observed airbag thefts over “many years, but I can’t say if there is an influence from the Takata airbag recall.”

John Wilkerson, a spokesman for another major airbag parts maker, ZF, said the company does not have data on airbag theft.

The Automotive Safety Council, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, the Insurance Information Institute, the Auto Care Association, the Automotive Service Association and the National Auto Body Council also said they didn’t have insight into the issue.

That’s a bummer, because police records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the issue has ballooned over the last year. In Miami, thieves stole 875 airbags in 2017 — a significant increase from the 38 that were lost in 2013. The primary targets? The Honda Civic and Accord. The New York City Police Department says it also noticed a rise in thefts over the past year, noting that Hondas seemed to be targeted specifically.

Washington, D.C. also has had its share of airbag-related troubles. In early July, the parking lots of three apartment complexes in Arlington’s Pentagon City neighborhood were the targets of airbag theft on the same night. Criminals broke into 37 vehicles, all of them Hondas no older than the 2012 model year.

It would be interesting to find out what these Hondas have that other models don’t. Could it be that veteran car thieves are simply nostalgic for their glory days of stealing and chopping fifth-gen Civics?

[Images: Honda]

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13 Comments on “Honda Airbags Are Reportedly Huge on the Black Market...”

  • avatar

    I was just looking at motorcycles and Honda is the most stolen brand in the US.

  • avatar

    Solution seems rather trivial. Simply link the airbag electronics to the auto security computer (as is common for AV systems) rendering the removed airbag non functional until recoded.

    Also reducing price of new replacement airbags (say just 100% markup over wholesale cost) would cool the “used” market. Who wants to trust their life to a used airbag.

    I also would request airbag tracking serial numbers from any shop that needed to replace my airbags to ensure I was getting what was paid for.

    • 0 avatar

      No can do – the airbags are dumb – they have no electronics in them whatsoever – all of the brains are in the airbag module which is on the vehicle’s CAN bus.

      And while on the topic of airbags, why is there a complete blackout of information on the fact that most modern airbags which use ammonium nitrate are inherently dangerous as they age? The propellant isn’t stable once moisture gets in. Nobody wants to talk about this, it seems. The more expensive and original propellant, sodium azide, didn’t have this problem.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is the shops that install air bags would have the tools to re-code them as you say.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it is the same reason that entire Hondas were so popular to steal. There are a lot of them out there so there is demand for replacement parts, Honda way over charges for parts, Honda designs cars that are easy to break into.

    Thieves want things that are both quick and easy to steal and sell.

  • avatar

    I’m guessing there are subgroups of Honda owners that are either less scrupulous about buying stolen parts, or more comfortable dealing with smaller auto shops, than other similar volume makes, like Toyota. All it takes is the presence of a percentage wise small subgroup, to skew numbers as relatively uncommon as the ones for airbag theft.

  • avatar

    Obviously prison and fines aren’t having the proper deterrent effect, so it’s time to get creative.

    Why don’t we start sentencing people to things so unpleasant they wouldn’t break the law?

    I kinda like the idea of a permanent ban on the use of personal electronics.

    You get convicted of stealing cars or car parts, you can never have a smartphone or a computer again.

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