Greetings from the Hemet Car Guy,
A few weeks ago we published “Postponing recall repairs is a deadly game,” about recalls and the fact that many people can’t get the necessary corrections made due to shortages of parts. A reader of The Valley Chronicle wrote a letter to the editor stating that warnings should be published “to all drivers of previously recalled vehicles such as my 2010 Scion XB. Toyota sent me a letter advising I could get killed in that car because of faulty Takata airbag devices. They also said they had no replacement Takata devices. This was a year ago and I still have heard nothing from Toyota.” The reader even advocated “shutting down any automobile manufacturer, especially Toyota, since they can’t sell safe cars and have so admitted with an attitude.”
I can certainly sympathize with the reader; I would feel the same way. I also know the frustration that car dealers experience as well, because they only sold the car, they didn’t make it.
“Of course it is a huge problem when we can’t get these parts,” said Eric Gosch, president of Gosch Auto Group, which includes Gosch Toyota. “Everybody is properly upset. Of course, we have no control over Toyota or Takata supplying replacement parts.”
Shutting down the auto industry is not an option
It’s not just Toyota – vehicles made by 19 different automakers have been recalled to replace front airbags in what the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history.” The airbags, made by major parts supplier Takata, were mostly installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2015. Some of those airbags could deploy explosively, injuring or even killing car occupants.
I’m not advocating shutting down the 19 auto manufacturers and the lifeblood of our economy at all; it just needs to be fixed. What is the problem, exactly? According to NHTSA, the problem lies within airbags that use ammonium nitrate-based propellant without a chemical drying agent. As postulated early on, environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age as associated with the defect can improperly inflate the airbags and even send shrapnel into the occupant.
Through various announcements, the recall has tripled in size over the past year. It is expected to impact more than 42 million vehicles in the U.S., with the total number of recalled airbags being between 65-70 million.
According to NHTSA, the problem lies within airbags that use ammonium nitrate-based propellant without a chemical drying agent. Repairs could take years.”
Putting the dangers in perspective
To date, there have been 11 deaths and approximately 180 injuries nationwide due to this problem. In some cases the incidents were horrific, with metal shards penetrating a driver’s face and neck. As awful as they are, such incidents are very rare. In June of 2015, Takata stated that it was aware of 88 ruptures in total: 67 on the driver’s side and 21 on the passenger’s side out of what it calculated was just more than 1.2 million airbag deployments spread out over 15 years. Despite these figures, airbags in general are not a danger. The Department of Transportation estimates that between 1987 and 2012, frontal airbags have saved 37,000 lives.
Based on information provided by Takata and acting under a special campaign by NHTSA, the involved automakers are responding to this safety risk by recalling all vehicles that have these specific airbags. While the automakers are prioritizing resources by focusing on high-humidity areas, they shouldn’t stop there. We encourage a national approach to the risks, as vehicles tend to travel across state borders, especially in the used car market.
Takata Airbag Q&A
Is my car affected by the recall?
Check the vehicle identification number (VIN), found in the lower driver-side corner of the windshield (observable from outside the vehicle), as well as on your registration and insurance documents. Enter that number into NHTSA’s online VIN-lookup tool. Or call any franchised dealer for your specific model.
What is taking so long?
Be prepared to keep waiting. Takata has ramped up and added to its assembly lines, but with more than 64 million recalled airbags, replacing them all could take years, even as other suppliers race to support this initiative.
Are other suppliers stepping in?
Yes; other major suppliers are now involved, including AutoLiv, TRW and Daicel. Takata is now using competitors’ products in half the inflator-replacement kits and expects that number to reach more than 70 percent. The propellant in those kits haven’t been implicated in the problems Takata has experienced.
How are repairs being prioritized?
Automakers are getting the replacement parts as fast as they can, but they are being sent to high-humidity areas first. Northern and less-humid areas will wait longer. Contact your dealership to learn how soon the work can be performed.
Are my airbags definitely defective?
No. Since 2002 only a very small number of some 30 million cars have been involved in these incidents. Between November 2014 and May 2015, Takata conducted more than 30,000 ballistics tests on recalled airbag inflators. In those tests, 265 ruptured, an unacceptably high number, and, at 0.8 percent, a far higher frequency than what has been seen so far in vehicles on the road.
I’m worried about driving, what should I do until the fix is made?
If the recall on your car involves only the front passenger-side airbag, then don’t let anyone sit in that seat. But if you use the VIN-lookup tool and it says that the problem involves the driver’s side, you should do what you can to minimize your risk. If possible, consider minimizing driving; carpooling with someone whose vehicle is not affected by the recall; utilizing public transportation or renting a car.
Should I expect to pay any money to get the recall fix?
Repairs conducted under the recall are free, but unrelated problems discovered during the service may not be.