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From hubcaps to car stereos and catalytic converters, cars have been big targets for thieves over the decades. And car theft continues to escalate. But now they’re after something else; steering wheels. It makes no sense until you remember that steering wheels have airbags in them.

Have you priced an airbag lately?

Airbag igniter built into a steering wheel
An airbag igniter is built into a steering wheel | Jens Wolf/picture alliance via Getty

Have you priced an airbag lately? They sell for anywhere from $250 to over $700-and that’s before installation. It is easily a $1,000-plus hit. But that’s not all. With supply chain issues still plaguing automakers, there are shortages of replacement airbags. But it gets weirder. 

Are some airbags more desirable to steal than others?

Airbag steering wheel
Airbag installed in a steering wheel | NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty

Thieves aren’t after just any airbag. They’re mostly after airbags in Chevy Malibus and Equinoxes. At least that’s what is being reported by Fox News 2 out of the Detroit area. We know that over the years Hondas are a ripe target for airbag thefts. But really, any newer car with an airbag is prime for steering wheel thefts.

In Eastpointe, Michigan, the police report they can get 11 calls about steering wheel thefts in just a couple of days. So for sure, there are certain shady repair shops just looking for airbags, any airbags. They’ll pay cash on the spot-no questions asked. They are even selling the steering wheel assemblies with the airbags inside to victims of steering wheel thefts. 

Airbag thefts amount to over $50 million a year

A Honda airbag
An airbag of a Honda vehicle | YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty

It’s estimated by the National Insurance Crime Bureau that airbag thefts amount to over $50 million a year. But our friends at the NICB have suggestions for how to keep your steering wheel attached to your car. First off, choose where you park your car carefully. 

Next, go out and buy one of those Club theft-protection devices. They attach to your steering wheel, which makes it far less tempting. Usually, if a thief sees any type of extra hassle, he or she will move on to an easier mark. The Clubs usually sell for around 50 bucks. 

Never buy an airbag online

An employee assembles an airbag with a steering wheel
An employee assembles an airbag with the VW logo in the steering wheel of a Volkswagen | Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty

Also, never buy an airbag online. Instead, have a deployed or stolen airbag replaced at a dealer or certified shop. If demand from less than upright shops goes away, then the cycle of theft does also. They also might file a fraudulent insurance claim. 

And the simplest deterrent might be making sure your car is locked. Without an easy entry, thieves will probably move on to the next unlocked vehicle they find.

Update: 6/16/2023


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