After snagging headlines for months with a cascade of recalls, the hazards of auto air bags from a single maker, Japan’s Takata, has burst wide open with the government’s decision to almost double the number of vehicles involved to 33.8 million.
With the recall of driver’s and passenger’s side air bags deemed the largest recall in automotive history, consumers may want to know more. So many were trying to tap into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, SaferCar.gov, on Wednesday that the site incurred momentary outages.
Here are seven issues that consumers need to know about the recall:
•Be patient if you’re trying to find if a car is listed as being under recall. The recalls are posted at SaferCar.org and on individual automaker’s websites. Owners have to pop in their Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, and it will tell them whether the vehicle is under recall. It may require patience until the wave of interest subsides and the sites are usable again. NHTSA says it received 598,000 requests for recall information through 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. In early May before the announcement, it was averaging 9,662 requests a day.
•It is unclear which exact models are part of the expanded recall. Some automakers say the government’s announcement of the expansion of the recall and its consent order caught them by surprise, so some are not yet sure which vehicles will be added to the list. General Motors, for instance, was waiting to see if Toyota was going to expand its recall of Pontiac Vibes, which the two automakers used to make jointly. Vibes were recalled in 2013 as part of Toyota’s recall. Now GM says Toyota may expand the recall to 2006 and 2007 Vibes, but isn’t sure. A full list may take another week.
•There is a danger being injured from exploding air bags, but the odds are low. In crashes, Takata air bags can deploy with explosive force, causing bits of metal and plastic to embed into the driver or passengers. Six have died worldwide and there have been about 100 injuries. But that number pales compared to the 33.8 million vehicles now included in the recall. The injuries have only come in crashes, and they are considered more likely to occur in places with high humidity.
•Dealers are already fixing cars and in most cases, parts are available. Unlike the long waits when GM recalled 2.6 million vehicles last year for faulty ignition switches, Takata indicates that it has parts available in dealers now to replace air bags for many models. It says it has made 3.8 million replacement air bag kits since the recalls began in 2013. It is now producing replacements at a rate of 500,000 a month and will increase production to a million a month in September. The repair itself takes about a half hour at a dealer.
•Other parts makers are also producing replacements. Takata isn’t alone. It’s using some other makers’ parts in their kits. Honda, which has been affected the worst by the recalls with 8.12 million inflators under recall in 6.28 million vehicles, has looked to three other suppliers — Autoliv, Daicel and TRW Automotive — for replacement parts.
•Who pays? Not the consumer. The recall repairs are free at dealerships. The bigger question is how much liability was Takata willing to accept when it came to automakers. Honda, on its own initiative, expanded its recalls to go nationwide, not just high-humidity states where the liklihood of exploding air bags is considered higher. Honda could have been on the hook for paying for the costs of the recall. Not now. Takata’s signing of the consent order acknowledging a defective product and NHTSA’s expansion of the recall to go nationwide would seem to assure that the recall is now nationwide.
•The recalls touch almost every automaker. Besides Honda, Toyota and General Motors, it also covers certain models from Chrysler, Ford, BMW, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Saab and Nissan.
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