NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Federal officials issued a warning Wednesday night about counterfeit air bags that may have been put into their cars when repaired.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reports, officials fear thousands of those replacement air bags will not work properly when needed.

When genuine air bags work, they save lives. But the federal government is warning about thousands of counterfeit air bags that may fail to inflate properly, and put drivers in danger.

“They aren’t going to save you in an accident,” said John Morton, director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “They are a fraud and a danger from start to finish and you don’t want them in your car, period.”

Federal officials tested the counterfeit airbags last month. One of them exploded, and showered a test dummy with shrapnel.

Law enforcement has been attacking the problem for months, seizing counterfeit air bags this summer near Charlotte, N.C., and arresting a man for selling them.

Another man, Dai Zhensong, was busted for bringing counterfeit air bags in from China.

“The Internet has made their sale and distribution much easier in recent years,” Morton said. “The air bags are illegally manufactured in foreign factories under false trademarks and shipped to brokers in the United States.”

By one estimate, there are a quarter million vehicles in the U.S. with phony air bags.

The feds say your car may be at risk if you had air bags replaced in the last three years at a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership.

Also at risk are used cars that may have sustained an air bag deployment before your purchase.

The feds say the counterfeit bags look pretty much identical to certified parts – except when it comes to price tags. The phony air bags can sell for as little as $50, compared to $700 to $1,000 for the real deal.

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