A safe presumption might be that your airbags will keep you safe but, surprisingly, that may not be the case.
Takata is a Japanese airbag manufacturer that produces low cost airbags using a propellant chemical called ammonium nitrate. Auto manufacturers liked the low price so they used Takata airbags in millions of cars. The problem is ammonium nitrate degrades over time, especially in climates with high heat, humidity and fluctuating temperature, and then in a minor crash it could explode with too much intensity shooting metal shrapnel shards into drivers and passengers. So far 14 people have been killed and around 100 have been injured related to this issue in the US.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified the problem and initiated the largest and most complex recall in US history. Around 1 in 8 US cars are affected: some 32 million. Most auto manufacturers are involved (see list below). Every month it seems more car models are added to the recall list. The NHTSA said the multiple phases of recall are due to end by March, 2019.
Now it gets really weird. Remember how I said ammonium nitrate degrades over time? Normally these airbags can function for six years before becoming unsafe. Because there is a shortage of airbags, some car manufacturers are legally putting the old style airbags in new cars and they plan to issue a recall later when more replacement airbags are available!
And it gets weirder! Remember how I said ammonium nitrate is affected by heat, humidity and fluctuating temperature? Part of the “fix” involves adding a drying agent to counteract humidity. But it turns out fluctuating temperature is still a problem so some of the replacement airbags might need to be re-recalled!
Takata be kidding me!
What to do? Find out if your car is affected. Your manufacturer, sales dealer, dealer service facility and certain insurance companies (like Safeco) will make an effort to notify you of recalls. But the easiest way to be sure is go to safercar.gov and put your car’s VIN number in their search engine.
If your car is recalled, take action. Call your dealer or have it explained at your next service visit. If you know there is a recall on your car, and you don’t take reasonable action and a passenger is hurt, you could be sued. Recall work can only be done at an authorized dealer…not by an independent mechanic. Priority is being given to high-risk vehicles in hot, humid states. California cars built before 2011 are in the priority one group. Experts say that humidity is a factor but I would still be concerned about a car sitting in the 140-degree oven we call a garage in a Coachella Valley summer. Honda/Acura is highly impacted and is providing free rentals. Most other dealers will provide rentals if you request or, if necessary, insist. Get it checked out!
Car manufacturers affected by the Takata airbag recall:
- Jaguar/Land Rover
This site is informational and not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.