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REALITY CHECK: Recycled airbag danger

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There are tens of millions of recalled airbags in the United States because they can spray shrapnel when deployed. (WPMI)

There are tens of millions of recalled airbags in the United States because they can spray shrapnel when deployed.

As dealers work to replace those dangerous defective parts, some of them are winding up back in cars - Hidden danger drivers behind the wheel may not even realize.

It's the last thing you'd expect when you drive off the dealership lot - the safest part of your car could be a source of grave danger.

Carfax experts took a trip to a local gas station and in less than 30 minutes, they found half a dozen vehicles with recalls, three of them related to airbags.

Chris Basso, Public Relations Manager for Carfax, downloaded the Carfax app on a phone and then began scanning drivers’ licenses as drivers were filling up with gas.

"We just found out that the passenger seat airbag has been recalled, so that's not good," Chris Basso, Public Relations Manager for Carfax, said.

It was a 2-year-old defective airbag recall that neither Jennifer Bennett, nor her husband had any knowledge of.

"Right now I have my wife riding in the front seat and that would kill me if something happened to her," said driver Justin Bennett.

“It's perfectly legal for any seller to sell you a car that's got active recalls on it. If it's a brand new car, those recalls need to be fixed, but there's no regulation for used cars,” Basso said.

However, some cars may contain recalled parts that won't show up in a vehicle history check. That's because they've been wrecked and repaired.

"There's lots of places where recycled parts, including airbags, are available and without properly checking those parts, they're being put into vehicles and putting lives at risk," Basso said.

“Yes, there are people that will sell recycled airbags,” Scott Pierce, Koby Subaru of Mobile said, adding “I wouldn't do it. I would not recommend it. If you think about it, would you really want to take a potential recalled part and put it on your car?”

Koby Subaru in Mobile does not use salvaged parts and discourages anyone from doing that, especially when it comes to airbags.

“Subaru is all about safety and we are too at Koby so we want to make sure those get taken care of,” Pierce said.

However, not all repair shops have these high standards. Some will salvage used parts from junk yards to save money and install them in your car without telling you.

“It's not like a fender or something where you can reuse a fender these things are dangerous,” Pierce said.

Dangerous and hard to detect. Pierce showed NBC both a recalled and replacement airbag, showing two parts that looked identical to one another.

“Most consumers would never be able to tell the difference the outside similarities, they very much look the same,” said Pierce.

Additionally, the recycled part won't show up on a VIN check because that airbag wasn't a part of the original car.

However, there is a way for consumers to make sure their getting the safe part they are paying for.

Experts recommend having a mechanic inspect the airbag to show you the source of your replacement part.

Plus, always ask for an itemized receipt when you purchase any replacement part.

“Especially ask if the airbag is deployed. The receipt will let you see they replaced it with a factory airbag so that way you have some measure of guarantee that the right part went on the right car,” Pierce said.

While a VIN may not tell you if safe parts were used to repair a car, it can tell you if the airbags have ever been deployed. That’s when you’ll need to dig deeper to make sure it’s been replaced with the right part.

Check for reported airbag deployments free at www.carfax.com/airbag.