Millions of defective Takata airbags not repaired

FILE - While speaking during a hearing in Washington, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., points to the injury on a victim who was hit by shrapnel when a car's Takata air bag inflated. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
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WASHINGTON (WTHR) — More than two years after the recall of potentially deadly airbags began, the vast majority of the more than 46 million vehicles with those Takata airbags have not been fixed. Now, U.S. senators are demanding answers about how the recall and repairs are progressing.

The senators say only about 36% of the vehicles have been repaired, leaving more than 30 million dangerous airbags still in vehicles. The Takata airbag inflators are known to explode with lethal force during a crash. They are blamed for at least sixteen deaths and 180 injuries around the world.

In a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the senators describe this as "the largest and arguably most complex safety recalls of any consumer product in U.S. history."

The members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee asked Chao a number of questions including the current number of vehicles yet to be repaired and whether there is a shortage of replacement parts. The senators also note there is some concern about conflicting messages consumers are receiving about getting those repairs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is overseeing the investigation and the recall. Federal regulators have already said that millions more vehicles are likely to be recalled in the future because of the Takata airbags.

The senators also note that President Trump has not yet named a new leader for NHTSA and that they hope he will do so in the near future. In the meantime, they wrote, "We urge the new administration to continue to work toward the objectives of the coordinated recall effort, focusing on the repair of the highest-risk vehicles as soon as possible."

Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D)
Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D)

Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D) signed the letter to Chao as the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

He released a statement showing his frustration with the time to name a new NHTSA administrator: "We're in desperate need of a leader who will commit to resolving this Takata mess. At the rate we're going, we might land humans on Mars before all of these deadly inflators are off the road."

Nelson says more vehicles must be repairs quickly. "We've got to pick up the pace on boosting production of replacement inflators and assisting consumers who need to get their vehicles fixed."

In February, Takata agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties to improve internal controls and to retain an independent monitor.

The company pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, and three executives face criminal charges.

In May, several automakers – BMW, Mazda, Subaru and Toyota – agreed to pay $533 million to owners of certain vehicles equipped with those faulty airbags.

Investigators have determined that the problem with the Takata airbag inflators may be a result of long-term exposure to humidity and high temperature fluctuations. As a result, NHTSA set up a recall priority schedule with vehicles in warmer climates considered higher-risk and getting the first repairs.

Takata airbag recall zone map

Finding out if YOUR car has a defective airbag

Many consumers simply will not be able to determine whether they are driving a vehicle with a defective Takata airbag because NHTSA is allowing automakers to phase the recall in over time. But that doesn't mean you cannot try.

To start, write down your vehicle identification number, which you will find on the driver's side corner of your dashboard or on the outside edge of your driver's side door.

Enter that number into NHTSA's searchable online recall database to see if your vehicle is subject to a current recall, including those related to its airbags. You can also look at NHTSA's list of affected vehicles. If it is, contact your dealership right away to get it fixed. If no airbag recall is listed, it means one of two things:

  1. Your vehicle does not have Takata airbag inflators with an ammonium nitrate propellant that could explode.
  2. Your vehicle might have faulty airbag inflators, but your automaker and NHTSA have not yet linked your VIN with the recall because it is on a future recall schedule.

If you don't see a recall listed when you type in your VIN, try checking again by using NHTSA's Recalls Lookup Tool and "search for recalls by make and model." This might show your make and model of vehicle has been identified as having problematic airbags, even if your VIN has not yet been flagged by your automaker.

If you still don't find an airbag recall, that likely means your vehicle is not among the highest risk vehicles identified by government regulators. To determine if your vehicle has an airbag that will be subject to a future recall, you'll have to dig some more.

You may also find useful information in NHTSA's list of answers to frequently asked questions about the recall.

You can also check out some other consumer and automotive websites such as the Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Reports and Car and Driver that have closely followed the Takata airbag recall for years.

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