The NHTSA Issues a Warning on Takata’s Airbag Recall Drama

Source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images
Source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If there’s one component in a vehicle that you’d hoped you can trust, it’s the airbag — a mechanism intended to function when everything else isn’t. That is what is making the latest recall drama so, well, dramatic, as nearly 4.7 million vehicles equipped with Takata-made airbag units have been recalled to address an issue with the inflator mechanisms.

Unlike an automaker’s recall that affects only their units, Takata supplies many of the world’s largest OEMs. As a result, the issues associated with their defective airbags have spread throughout many of the global automakers, from BMW and General Motors to Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Nissan. Though the recall efforts have been taking place over the last two years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released a statement urging owners to address the problem immediately.

Investigations indicate that in the event of the crash, the airbag can release exploding shrapnel into the cabin, posing further risk of injury or death to the driver. The affected units have been traced to many different vehicles, including high-volume sellers like the 2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer, the 2000 – 2005 BMW 3 Series Sedan, the 2001 – 2007 Honda Accord, and many others. The vehicles are primarily located in humid areas, like the American Southeast, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and Hawaii, the NHTSA said.

In its coverage of the issue, Bloomberg spoke with Ashvin Chotai, who is the managing director of researcher Intelligence Automotive Asia. He said that aside from the obvious hardware failures, the campaign could be detrimental on drivers’ psyche from a trustworthiness point of view. “This undermines the credibility or confidence in driving, generally, and in cars,” he told the site. “There’s very little consumers can do about it. Of course they feel less confident about sitting in a car and they’ll be extra cautious, but beyond that, what can you do?”

Source: Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images
Source: Jeff Kowalsky/Getty Images

Toyota has been especially good about ensuring that its drivers aren’t affected by the problem. In addition to releasing re-notifications, the company — which was burned several years ago by the unintended acceleration debacle — is also going the extra mile to help the affected vehicles. Toyota has issued recalls for 247,000 vehicles, including some models of the Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, and Tundra, made from 2001 to 2004, all of which use Takata’s airbag units.

“We’re prepared to do whatever the owner asks us to do,” John Hanson, Toyota’s U.S. spokesperson, told Bloomberg. “If the owner is afraid to drive the car, we’ll come and get it.” The company also advised that until the issue is addressed, passengers shouldn’t ride in the front passenger seat, and if the replacement part isn’t readily available, dealers will disable the passenger side airbag to thwart the risk of metal debris coming into the cabin.

Nissan has no such plans, and Mazda is also sticking to its usual recall strategies, the spokespeople told Bloomberg. Honda, which owns a 1.2 percent stake in the supplier and is perhaps the most widely affected OEM by the recall, said that it will be “acting appropriately” as the saga continues to unfold. Honda has so far recalled over 6 million units since 2008, all for the airbag issues.

Virtually all of the vehicles are older models, from the early 2000s, and for GM, it dovetails with the record recall efforts seen as a result of the faulty ignition switch problems, which kicked off a train of over 75 recall campaigns covering over 30 million vehicles.