Millions Still Driving with Recalled Takata Airbags

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Despite numerous deaths and injuries, millions of drivers have not had their Takata airbags swapped out as part of the largest recall ever issued.

Since 2008, more than 37 million vehicles, with 50 million airbags, have been subject to the Takata airbag recall. But only a fraction of car owners have acted, with nearly 60 percent of inflators untouched.

"At this point in the U.S., there have been at least 15 people killed and over 180 people injured in relation to rupturing Takata airbag inflators,” Chris Martin, of American Honda Motor Co., said.

Mike Alton, who has worked on cars for 35 years, said he's never seen a recall this large.

"Basically, people are driving around with ticking time bombs," Alton said. "Inside this is full of an explosive powder, ammonium nitrate or some other type of powder. The manufacturers use different stuff. And it’s ready to go. It's got an electro-connection in the back and when power and ground is applied to this, it actually ignites it, just like a model rocket igniter or maybe the igniter on your gas grill,” Alton said.

In many of the Takata airbags, shrapnel is included, too. Alton said the ignition powder Takata used solidified over time, plugging up holes meant to relieve pressure.

“Basically they used a cheaper chemical, in the ammonium, than they needed to,” Jason K. Levine, executive director of Center for Auto Safety, said.

Stephanie Erdman learned about the Takata problems firsthand when shrapnel exploded into her face during a minor crash. Now, she is part of Honda's national awareness campaign to replace the recalled parts.

"I'm lucky to be alive. Others haven't been so fortunate,” Erdman said in a campaign video.

In late 2014, Honda officials said the company began using an alternative parts supplier that used a different type of propellant. In 2016, Honda stopped using Takata airbags in all their vehicles.

Honda officials said the company has changed between 60 percent and 70 percent of the airbags in its vehicles.

In all, 33 car manufacturers and 181 different model vehicles dating from 2001 to 2017 were affected by the Takata recall.

“These airbags were put in up until very recently, in part because of lawyers wrangling with the federal government, saying that, ‘Well, yes it was made by Takata, and yes, it's an airbag inflator, but the chemicals were slightly different and there's no quick demonstrable proof that it's exactly the same," Levine said.

In January 2017, Takata was ordered to pay $1 billion to victims of the faulty airbags and to car manufacturers for replacements.

Takata filed for bankruptcy in early 2018.

In February, the company released a statement on its website, stating in part that it would “continue to make every effort to consummate the transactions and rebuild our business.”

Experts said anyone with a vehicle that’s part of the recall should call their dealer immediately.

"If for some reason they tell you they don't have the parts, you should demand a loaner vehicle until they can give you that replacement airbag. Again, you don't want to be driving around with this for any longer than you have to be,” Levine said.

However, additional air bags are scheduled to be recalled by December 2019, bringing the total number of affected vehicles to between 65 million and 70 million.

Anyone who isn’t sure if their vehicle is part of the recall can visit nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter their vehicle’s VIN number.

View the full story, by Mike Cherry, on wmur.com

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