In a saga stretching back to 2001, some 37 million vehicles from 19 auto makers are currently slated for recall due to defective Takata airbags, which can explode upon deployment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also expects additional recalls through December of 2019, raising the total number of affected airbags to between 65 and 70 million.
The Takata airbag-related recalls, of course, are hardly the only auto recalls issued in recent years. Just for starters, other massive recalls have included The Chrysler Group’s recall of 13,000 Dodge Chargers because of anti-lock brake problems and Toyota’s recall of 9,000 vehicles due to out-of-control gas pedals.
What’s behind the airbag recalls
Defective airbags from Takata are already responsible for at least 15 deaths and 250 injuries in the U.S. alone. The airbags use ammonium nitrate to inflate the airbag upon impact; over time, the chemical can become unstable, especially when exposed to high heat and humidity, causing inflators to explode and hurl sharp pieces of broken metal through the cabin of the vehicle.
On February 8, 2019, vehicle manufacturers Subaru, Tesla, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler Vans, Mercedes and Ferrari became the latest to begin recalling vehicles for replacement of the airbag inflators from Takata. At the start of January, Ford added another 953,000 vehicles to an earlier recall list for the inflators.
Also in February, Honda became the first company to issue a second recall involving a swap-out of already-replaced Takata parts, following the crash of a previously recalled 2004 Honda Odyssey vehicle. When the van’s driver’s side front airbag deployed, a Takata replacement inflator ruptured and injured the driver’s arm.
Upon investigating the crash, Honda found that inflators manufactured at Takata’s factory in Monclova, Mexico, experienced manufacturing errors which introduced excessive moisture into the inflator during assembly. Honda’s investigators concluded that since moisture can accelerate degradation of the ammonium nitrate used for inflating the airbag, this can result in overly forceful deployment of the airbag and possible rupture of the inflator.
Recalls prioritized according to risk
In the larger barrage of first-time recalls, the NHTSA has identified certain vehicle models as being at particularly high risk for air bag explosions. These models, which use older “Alpha” airbags, include some 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles, Mazda B-Series truck and 2006 Ford Rangers. The NHTSA advises owners not to drive these vehicles unless they are going directly to a dealer for immediate repairs.
Vehicle makers are now giving top priority to the Alpha air bags while also working to replace all potentially dangerous Takata airbags. Under a “coordinated remedy program schedule,” repairs are being prioritized according to risk-based groups across 19 vehicle manufacturers, the federal agency says.
Meanwhile, on December 12, 2018, Toyota announced that it would start installing new, non-Takata airbag inflators immediately, a year ahead of schedule on select 2003-2005 Toyota small cars, 2002-2005 Toyota Sequoia SUVs, 2003-2005 Sequoia SUVs, 2003-2005 Tundra pickup trucks and 2002-2005 Lexus cars.
What consumers can do about auto recalls
Manufacturers are supposed to mail out recall notifications to owners of record. Owners can also find out whether their vehicles are currently scheduled for recall by searching the NHTSA web site by VIN (vehicle identification number). Models that might be recalled later this year will not necessarily appear through a VIN search, however.
To get updates about future recalls, the NHTSA advises consumers to sign up on the website for Recall Alerts as well as to make sure the address on their automobile registrations is current.
Unfortunately, though, recalls often go unheeded by consumers. Sometimes, owners simply ignore notices mailed my manufacturers, mistaking the mailings as advertisements, notes ConsumerAffairs.com.
Used car owners can be unaware that their vehicles are subject to recall if the original owner has been sent a recall notice but failed to respond. Regardless of the age of your car, and whether you purchased it new or used, you need to make sure that no important component gets neglected. For used vehicles and others which have exceeded their original warranty periods, many companies sell maintenance and extended warranty plans.
Airbag recalls first began in 2001
The long-standing problems with defective Takata airbags first came to light almost two decades ago, in a recall by Isuzu. This was followed by a Honda recall in 2008 and additional recalls by myriad vehicle manufacturers on a sporadic basis ever since.
In one complaint filed with the NHTSA about an accident on August 6, 2013, a ruptured airbag inflator propelled a one-inch piece of shrapnel into the driver’s right eye, resulting in loss of sight in that eye and “severe lacerations to the nose requiring 100 stitches,” according to a report by legal specialists The Cooper Firm.
In a complaint about an accident in Florida on April 26, 2014, a driver reported that he avoided eye injury only because he was wearing large glasses. However, he added that since the accident, his right ear had “partial hearing with moderate ringing and pain,” while his left ear “sounds like I’m sitting in a field of crickets.”
Honda to start notifications of second recalls in April
For reasons that are still unclear, most but not all injuries and deaths resulting from the defective Takata airbags have occurred in vehicles manufactured by Honda.
Honda is starting to mail notices for second recalls in April 2019. The company has stated that replacement parts will be on hand for all impacted owners, “all from alternate suppliers,” and that it will embark on free repairs immediately.
Also according to Honda, owners will be able to get a free rental car for the day of the second recall repair, or for a longer time period if the replacement part is unavailable temporarily, according to a fact sheet published on a Honda website.