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Toyota's fake airbag parts scare | exclusive

Toyota has discovered at least two distributors of counterfeit airbag parts and “thousands” of motorists may not even know their life is in danger in a crash.

Toyota Australia is trying to locate “thousands” of counterfeit airbag parts that could prove deadly in a crash.

The bogus parts -- sold in what appears to be genuine Toyota packaging -- fit most of the 2 million Toyotas sold in Australia over the past 10 years, but the company has no idea how many have been installed in cars locally. 

The fake airbag parts are sold by unscrupulous importers who are selling them to independent repairers and possibly Toyota dealers who are likely unaware the parts are bogus. 

According to an urgent dealer bulletin obtained by News Corp Australia, Toyota has “serious concerns about the safety of these parts” after internal testing in Japan found there were four ways they could fail to deploy an airbag in a crash.

Toyota Australia has declined to comment on the matter. 

RELATED: Customs seizes bogus car parts for Toyota Corolla, Camry, RAV4 and Kluger

But the dealer bulletin issued over the weekend says there is a “high likelihood of insufficient conductivity to support airbag deployment electrical current” and “significant risk of airbag non deployment in an accident”.

The technical bulletin says the counterfeit part does not have gold plated connectors, the crimping of the cable is not strong enough and it does not use copper wire as per the genuine article. The plastic locking tabs are also “poorly formed” or misaligned.

As is the case with most new cars, the airbag connector -- the link between the car’s power source and the airbag in the steering wheel -- must be replaced every time an airbag is deployed in a crash. 

The genuine part costs about $300 wholesale while the fake part is estimated to cost as little as $50.

The fake airbag parts are sold by unscrupulous importers who are selling them to independent repairers

Adding to the confusion, one of the importers of the counterfeit devices sells the exact same part with and without Toyota packaging, marketing the cheaper option simply as “non-genuine”, when in fact both parts are fake and have not been tested to manufacturer standards.

Owners of Toyota cars that have never been involved in an accident are not at risk of being affected by the bogus parts. 

But Toyota vehicles that have been repaired after an airbag deployed in a crash may have been fitted with the counterfeit parts either knowingly or unwittingly by smash repairers. 

One dealer speaking on condition of anonymity said: "The problem is, we truly have no way of knowing how many of these fake parts are out there. But we suspect there are thousands, because they are quite a commonly used part."

According to insurance industry figures, about 15 per cent of crashes are serious enough to deploy airbags, which on conservative estimates equates to about 150,000 cars needing replacement airbags each year nationally.

Industry experts fear the counterfeit parts may not be exclusive to Toyota, and other brands may be affected. 

But Toyota is one of the prime targets as it sells the most cars. 

Toyota has been Australia's biggest selling car company for the past 12 years in a row.

The Toyota bulletin has advised dealers to check the airbag connector when cars come in for routine servicing, to ensure it is not a counterfeit part.

The latest safety issue is unrelated to the recent recalls involving Takata airbags, which so far have seen more than 860,000 cars sent back to dealers in Australia, of which 207,000 were Toyotas and 306,000 were Hondas.