Motor vehicle companies permit organizations that buy vehicles in bulk, such as rental car companies or large corporations, to have safety features removed from their purchased fleet of vehicles to save a few pennies – even though the model vehicles may have been marketed to the general public with those safety features as standard. For instance, General Motors allowed Enterprise Rent-A-Car to remove the standard side curtain airbags from at least the 2006 – 2008 Impalas and the 2008 – 2009 Cobalts.
Vehicles purchased as rental or fleet vehicles are eventually resold as previously-owned vehicles by the fleet owners or by used car sellers across the country. In the case of the Enterprise Impalas, innocent purchasers who conducted research prior to purchasing a used Impala and discovered that the 2006-2008 Impalas had “standard” side curtains, would mistakenly believe their vehicles contained these standard airbags. Many car buyers, especially those with small children, might even consider the presence of the side impact airbags as a central factor in choosing a 2006-2008 Impala.
The removal of these side curtain airbags causes a number of negative repercussions, including the following:
- The most obvious and serious consequence is a reduction in safety. The second most common types of crashes, side impacts often result in serious, even fatal, head injuries. In the early 2000s, manufacturers began equipping many vehicles with side or side curtain airbags for head protection. Obviously, these airbags improve occupant protection, and safety advocates list side airbags or curtains as mandatory safety features.
- Government established star ratings become inaccurate because they do not reflect the performance of the altered vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has given the Impala a four-star rating for rear side impact protection and five stars for front side impact protection. However, the Impala without the side curtain was not included in the testing, and therefore the NHTSA ratings are simply not accurate with regard to the altered vehicles.
- Another serious consequence is vehicle values which are reduced and/or misleading. Buyers believe these vehicles have a side airbag. All major consumer buying and crash-test safety rating guides list front and rear side impact airbags as standard equipment on the 2007-2008 Impala which obviously adds to the value of the vehicles. Without the side airbags, an Impala’s value is not the same as it would be with the airbags.
Consumers who purchase a used vehicle in which the side or side curtain airbags were removed often do not even realize the safety feature is missing. How can you tell if your Impala does not have the side curtain airbags you thought were standard?
- Look near the interior roof where the word “AIRBAG” should be stamped in a space between the side windows. If it’s not there, neither are the airbags.
- Check the VIN. Position 7 of this 17-character identification number reflects the restraint system. Impalas missing the “standard” side curtains have a “5” in the seventh position; Impalas containing side curtains have a “7” or “8” in that position.
GM also permitted its fleet buyers to delete OnStar from certain models of Impalas and Cobalts. OnStar is GM’s automatic crash notification system, described by GM as “the world’s most comprehensive in-vehicle security, communications, and diagnostics system.” When a crash occurs, OnStar gets word to first-responders immediately, directing them to the crash site and giving them important information on the seriousness of the accident. Like deletion of the side curtain airbag, deletion of OnStar deprives an innocent purchaser of a safety feature he likely believes is present in the vehicle.
If you have been injured because your vehicle did not have a piece of safety equipment you believed it had, whatever the type of vehicle or safety feature, please contact our office by calling (901) 763-3336 or online by clicking here.