More than 30 million vehicles in the United States, made by 10 different automakers, have been recalled to replace frontal airbags on the driver’s side or passenger’s side, or both. The airbags, made by major parts supplier Takata, were mostly installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2008, although it has been expanded through 2014 in some cases. Some of those airbags could deploy explosively, injuring or even killing car occupants. (Look for details below on waits for replacement airbags.)
At the heart of the problem is the airbag’s inflator, a metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers, which in some cases has ignited with explosive force. If the inflator housing ruptures in a crash, metal shards from the airbag can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin—a potentially disastrous outcome from a supposedly life-saving device.
Nailing down the root cause and determining which of Takata’s several inflator designs is implicated has been tough for Takata, the automakers, and independent investigators to establish. It now appears there are multiple causes, as well as several contributing factors, including poor quality control in manufacture, several years of exposure in high heat and humidity regions, and even the design of the car itself. If the propellant wafers break down, due to high humidity or another cause, the result is that the propellant burns too rapidly, creating excessive pressure in the inflator body.
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December 23, 2015: NHTSA announces an eighth U.S. fatality due to the questionable Takata airbag inflator, underscoring the need for consumer to have their cars repaired as soon as possible. Further, there have been changes to the official list of affected vehicles, which are reflected in this omnibus story.
November 3, 2015: NHTSA imposes a record civil penalty of up to $200 million against Takata. (Of that, $70 is a cash penalty, with an additional $130 million charge if Takata fails to meet its commitments.) Plus, the government agency requires Takata to phase out the manufacturer and sale of inflators that use the risky propellant and recall all Takata ammonium nitrate inflators currently on the road—unless the company can prove they are safe or can show it has determined why its inflators are prone to rupture.
October 9, 2015: Honda releases an update on the Takata airbag recall, stating its progress in reaching out to consumers and its recall repair completion rate.
June 19, 2015: NHTSA and Honda confirm that an 8th fatality was attributable to a Takata airbag rupture, which took place in Los Angeles in September of 2014. The car was identified as a rented 2001 Honda Civic. Honda said the car had been under recall since 2009 but that various owners, including the small rental company in Los Angeles, had failed to have the repairs made.
June 17, 2015: NHTSA VIN look-up tool is updated to include all affected models. Often, there can be a slight delay between announcements and when data is available.
June 16, 2015: Toyota expands years for recall on previously announced models, adding 1,365,000 additional vehicles.
June 15, 2015: Honda expands national recall on Honda Accord.
June 15, 2015: NHTSA and Honda confirm that Takata airbag rupture was implicated in a seventh death. The driver of a 2005 Honda Civic was fatally injured following a crash on April 5, in Louisiana.
June 4, 2015: Reuters reports that at least 400,000 replaced airbag inflators will need to be recalled and replaced again.
May 29, 2015: Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and General Motors added the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) of the impacted vehicles to their recall websites.
May 28, 2015: NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers revealed the additional models included in previous recall announcements.
May 19, 2015: DOT released a statement saying that Takata acknowledges airbag inflators it produced for certain vehicles were faulty. It expanded certain regional recalls to national ones, and included inflators fitted in certain Daimler Trucks in the recalled vehicles. In all, the recall was expanded to a staggering 33.8 million vehicles. That number includes the roughtly 17 million vehicles previously recalled by affected automakers.
February 20, 2015: NHTSA fined Takata $14,000 per day for not cooperating fully with the agency's investigation into the airbag problems.
January 18, 2015: The driver of a 2002 Honda Accord became the fifth person in the United States thought to have been killed by an exploding airbag inflator.
December 18, 2014: Ford issued a statement adding an additional 447,310 vehicles to the recall.
December 9, 2014: Honda issued a statement saying it will comply with NHTSA and expand its recall to a national level. This brings the number of affected Honda/Acura vehicles to 5.4 million.
November 18, 2014: NHTSA called for the recalls to be expanded to a national level.
November 7, 2014: New York Times published a report claiming Takata was aware of dangerous defects with its airbags years before the company filed paperwork with federal regulators.
Putting the dangers in perspective
Seven fatalities and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the Takata airbags, and 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 over 1.2 million airbag deployments spread 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.
For a historical perspective, AutoSafety.org has compiled a list of airbag recalls over time.
Takata airbag Q&A
How do I know whether my car is affected by the recall?
There are several ways to check whether your specific car is affected. You’ll need your 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. Punch that number into NHTSA’s online VIN-lookup tool. If your vehicle is affected, the site will tell you so. NHTSA also has a list of vehicles available for a quick review, and the manufacturers have ownership sections on their websites for such information. Or you can call any franchised dealer for your car brand.
What is taking so long for my airbag to arrive?
Many affected owners are learning that it may take weeks or months for their replacement airbags to arrive. Takata has ramped up and added to its assembly lines, and expects to be cranking out a million replacement kits per month by September, 2015. But with the recalled airbags now numbering more than 34 million, replacing them all could take years, even as other suppliers race to support this initiative.
Can other suppliers step in to fill the gaps?
As recently as the fall of 2014 it looked unlikely that other airbag suppliers could pick up the slack. There was little spare assembly capacity anywhere, and rival systems used different designs. That picture is changing, and other major suppliers are now involved, including AutoLiv, TRW, and Daicel. Takata has said that it is now using competitors’ products in half the inflator-replacement kits it is churning out, and expects that number to reach more than 70 percent. Those rival suppliers also use a propellant that hasn’t been implicated in the problems Takata has experienced.
How important is that I respond to the recall?
All recalls, by definition, are concerned with safety and should be treated seriously. As with all recalls, we recommend having the work performed as soon as parts are available and the service can be scheduled. Since age has been established as a key factor in most of the Takata airbag ruptures to date, it’s especially important for owners of older recalled cars to get this work done.
Does it matter where I live?
According to NHTSA, yes. The Takata inflators seem to be vulnerable to persistent high humidity and high temperature conditions, such as in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, the Gulf Coast states, Hawaii, and island territories. However, since a number of confirmed deaths have occured in places outside the priority recall area, this recall should not be ignored.
How are repairs being prioritized?
Automakers are getting the replacement parts as fast as they can, and most are sending them to the high-humidity areas first. Northern and less-humid areas might need to wait longer for parts availability, depending on the brand. Contact your dealership to learn how soon the work can be performed.
What if I spend only a certain part of the year in a humid climate?
People who travel to the higher-risk areas in times of low humidity (such as snowbirds) are not at the same level of risk as those who live in those areas year-round, according to NHTSA.
Are the airbags in my car 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 reported to NHTSA that the company had conducted more than 30,000 ballistic tests on airbag inflators returned pursuant to the recalls. In those tests, 265 ruptured. That is 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. According to defect reports filed with the government, Takata said that as of May 2015 it was aware of 84 ruptures that had occurred in the field since 2002.
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 your driving.
- Carpooling with someone whose vehicle is not affected by the recall.
- Utilizing public transportation.
- Renting a car.
Renting a car until yours is repaired can prove expensive and ultimately might not be the ideal solution. Asking your dealer whether they will provide one, or a loaner vehicle might be worth a try if it accomplishes nothing else than putting some pressure on the manufacturer. If you do get a rental car, as with any new vehicle or rental, take some time to familiarize yourself with its operation before driving.
What about shutting off airbags until the replacement parts arrive?
Right now only Toyota is recommending this course of action. Consumer Reports has concerns about the recommendation from a safety standpoint.
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.
Affected owners in Florida, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico have been prioritized in this recall and will receive parts first. If you live in these regions, make sure to contact your local BMW dealer immediately to schedule an appointment to have your front driver and/or passenger airbag replaced. BMW recommends that no one sit in the front passenger seat until that airbag is replaced.
2003 X5 3.0i
2003 X5 4.4i
Chrysler is going to replace the airbag in cars based in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is currently working on accumulating a supply of replacement parts, and is contacting customers as they become available.
Chrysler stresses that its vehicles are equipped with inflators that differ from other vehicles. The American automaker is saying that these inflators are not faulty.
2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen
2005-2010 Chrysler 300
2005-2010 Chrysler 300C
2005-2010 Chrysler SRT8
2008-2010 Dodge Challenger
2006-2010 Dodge Charger
2005-2011 Dodge Dakota
2004-2008 Dodge Durango
2005-2008 Dodge Magnum
2003-2009 Dodge Ram 1500
2003-2009 Dodge Ram 2500
2003-2009 Dodge Ram 3500
2008-2010 Dodge Ram 4500
2008-2010 Dodge Ram 5500
Contact your local Ford dealer to schedule an appointment to have the airbag replaced in affected vehicles. Ford states that it has not seen any issues in its vehicles, but under advisement from NHTSA, and with information from Takata, the company is recalling specific vehicles, including the 2004 Ford Ranger and 2005-2014 Mustang.
2004-2006 Ranger - Driver’s and/or passenger side airbag
2005-2006 GT - Driver’s and/or passenger side airbag
2005-2014 Mustang - Driver’s side airbag
Double check that your vehicle is actually involved. It was first announced that many Buicks, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles were affected by the recall. It turns out that was an error in reporting by NHTSA. Most of those vehicles were part of an unrelated recall years ago.
Interestingly, the two remaining vehicles were actually produced by other automakers and rebranded under former GM makes: the 2003-2005 Pontiac Vibe (built alongside the Toyota Matrix) and the 2005 Saab 9-2x (a Subaru-built vehicle rebranded as a Saab). Both vehicles should be taken to a current GM dealership for repairs.
2003-2007 Pontiac Vibe - Passenger side
2005 Saab 9-2x - Passenger side
2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500 - Passenger side
2007-2008 GMC Sierra 2500/3500 - Passenger side
Honda has the most affected vehicles, with more than five million cars being recalled. If you haven’t already, go to Honda’s recall site and enter your VIN. If your vehicle is included in this recall, the site will provide a description of the problem and instructions on how to proceed.
If you have a vehicle that was first sold in, or is registered in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands—take immediate action. If you haven’t already received notice in the mail, print out the results of your VIN search and contact your nearest Honda dealer. They have allocated the replacement parts to these high humidity areas and will replace the part once you’ve made an appointment. Honda will be sending notices to other areas on a rolling basis as the parts become available.
Honda will comply with NHTSA and expand its recall to a national level. This brings the number of affected Honda/Acura vehicles to 5.75 million.
On January 18, 2015, the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord became the fifth person in the United States thought to have been killed by an exploding airbag inflator in a minor two-car collision in Spring, Texas. Although that Accord had been recalled to replace its driver-side airbag inflator in 2011, the recall work was never done, Honda has acknowledged. The driver who was killed had bought the car used less than a year ago and may never have received the recall notice. Consumer Reports urges all car owners to respond right away to safety-defect recalls.
2003-2006 Acura MDX - Driver’s side airbag
2002-2003 Acura TL - Driver’s side airbag
2003 Acura CL - Driver’s side airbag
2005 Acura RL - Passenger side airbag
2001-2007 Honda Accord - Driver’s side airbag
2003-2007 Honda Accord - Passenger side airbag
2001-2005 Honda Civic - Driver’s & passenger side airbag
2002-2006 Honda CR-V - Driver’s side airbag
2003-2011 Honda Element - Driver’s side airbag
2002-2004 Honda Odyssey - Driver’s side airbag
2003-2008 Honda Pilot - Driver’s side airbag
2006 Honda Ridgeline - Driver’s side airbag
Mazda has focused its recall on vehicles sold or registered in Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The automaker will replace the front and/or passenger airbag inflators.
2003-2008 Mazda6 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag
2005-2007 MazdaSpeed6 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag
2004-2008 Mazda RX-8 - Driver and/or passenger side airbag
2004-2005 MPV - Driver and/or passenger side airbag
2004-2006 B-Series Truck - Driver and/or passenger side airbag
If you see that your car as part of this recall, Mitsubishi advises owners to act immediately in scheduling an appointment to replace it. If the dealer does not have the part yet, they will provide instructions on how best to proceed until the part is available.
2004-2006 Lancer Evolution
2004 Lancer Sportback
2006-2009 Mitsubishi Raider
Nissan has notified owners of affected vehicles to bring their vehicle in for inspection and potential parts replacement. Extra attention is being paid to “some areas” of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nissan says they have a sufficient supply of airbags to keep up with demand.
2003-2005 Infiniti FX - Passenger side
2006 Infiniti M35/M45 - Passenger side
2001-2004 Infiniti I30/I35 - Passenger side
2002-2003 Infiniti QX4 - Passenger side
2001-2003 Nissan Maxima - Passenger side
2002-2004 Nissan Pathfinder - Passenger side
2002-2006 Nissan Sentra - Passenger side
Call your local Subaru dealer and schedule an appointment to have the airbag replaced. There is no wait for parts to arrive and no special emphasis on localized climates or regions. Because second owners may not know where the previous owner of their vehicle lived/drove, Subaru does not want to focus on any particular region.
2003-2005 Baja - Passenger side
2003-2008 Legacy - Passenger side
2003-2008 Outback - Passenger side
2004-2005 Impreza (include WRX/STi) - Passenger side
Immediate action is recommended if your vehicle registered in the coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Or if the car is in Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.
Toyota will replace the front passenger airbag. If the part is not available, the dealership can disable the front passenger airbag until a replacement part is available, and then recommends that the front passenger seat not be occupied.
Toyota also says that if you do not follow the instructions in the owner letter to have the work performed, then you should not drive your vehicle.
If you must use the seat after airbag deactivation, we advise that extra care should be taken to ensure passengers wear a seatbelt.
When the parts become available, owners will be notified by mail to bring their vehicle in for the proper fix.
Finally, if you are uncomfortable driving your vehicle to the dealership to have the work performed, contact your local Toyota dealer, and they will arrange to have the vehicle picked up.
2002-2007 Lexus SC - Passenger side
2003-2007 Toyota Corolla - Passenger side
2003-2007 Toyota Matrix - Passenger side
2002-2007 Toyota Sequoia - Passenger side
2003-2006 Toyota Tundra - Passenger side
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• The truth about recalls
• Guide to car safety
• Guide to models offering advanced safety features
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