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Three people killed by faulty replacement air bag inflators, US safety agency says

FILE PHOTO: Traffic is seen on a highway in New York

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. auto safety regulator said on Wednesday that three people have been killed and two seriously injured in the last nine months by low-cost faulty replacement air bag inflators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged used car buyers and owners to beware of substandard imported inflators that can cause death or serious injury in a crash. The agency said the inflators, which had been installed after prior crashes, malfunctioned in subsequent collisions, sending large metal fragments into drivers.

"These suspect replacement parts are often manufactured by foreign companies with little to no reputation of quality manufacturing or experience, sold at prices far below the cost of quality genuine equipment, ordered online ... and installed by those other than reputable repair shops or manufacturer dealerships," the agency said.

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The NHTSA added that consumers should obtain a vehicle-history report before purchasing a used vehicle and, if it was in a prior crash, visit an independent mechanic for an air bag inspection to ensure the parts are genuine.

"If it’s too good to be true, it likely is — and it could be deadly," the agency said.

For years, NHTSA has investigated air bag inflators that can degrade after long-term exposure to high humidity.

More than 30 deaths worldwide, including 26 U.S. deaths, and hundreds of injuries in various automakers' vehicles since 2009 have been caused by Takata air bag inflators that can explode, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks.

Over the last decade, more than 67 million Takata air bag inflators have been recalled in the United States by more than 20 automakers, and more than 100 million inflators recalled worldwide, in the biggest auto safety callback in history.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Rod Nickel)