Are Your Airbags Missing?
Is it illegal to fail to replace an airbag in a rebuilt car? My car has dual front airbags, and after a major collision they did not deploy.
An excellent question! There are two possibilities here, the first being that even though the collision was severe it did not meet the criteria for deployment. If the collision forces act during a relatively long interval the computer may decide not to activate the airbags. The second reason is the one you hint at, and that is after a previous collision the airbags were not replaced as required during repairs.
In past, the easiest way to detect this scam was to refer to the owner's manual and look to see how the airbag system light in the dash was supposed to behave when you started the vehicle. If the light did not do what was expected this was a reliable indication that the airbag was not there or not functional.
Today unscrupulous repair people will remove the airbag indicator bulb, wire the indicator bulb to another bulb in the dash that behaves the same way or even install a small circuit card to have the indicator bulb behave as expected. They may even install a simulator to trick the system into thinking that all is well. This is no longer a reliable check that you can make yourself when buying a used vehicle.
You can increase your certainty by manually checking to see if the airbag is present. Press with reasonable force over the center of the steering wheel. If the cover feels soft this could be an indication that the tightly packed airbag is not there. The covers can often be repaired after removing the airbag using instant glue. If this has been done, the cover may crack along the repair. Of course, the cover over an airbag that is present probably won't do this.
For peace of mind, nothing beats inspection of your prospective purchase by a qualified mechanic before you complete the sale and hand over your money. In the case of airbag concerns I might even suggest that you consider having the inspection done at a dealership for your make of vehicle. They should have the necessary experience to do this quickly and accurately.