Even if you don’t own an affected vehicle, you’ve likely heard of the massive Takata airbag recall. It is the largest recall of its kind in the history of the automobile, and with at least 7 deaths and more than 100 injuries, it is proving one of the deadliest.
The affected automakers include BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. Among all these brands, Honda and Acura vehicles represent one of the largest potions of affected vehicles, with as many as 8.51 million vehicles recalled.
With so many cars requiring replacement airbag inflators, owners are facing significant wait times before their cars are repaired. Here’s what you need to know, and more importantly, what you can do to make sure you are driving a safe car as soon as possible.
What is happening?
It is not the airbag itself, but the inflator mechanism. When functioning properly, upon impact, the inflator creates a controlled explosion that inflates the airbag. But according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, many of these inflators have been exposed to moisture, and the results can be deadly.
“Over time,” reads a statement from NHTSA, “That moisture causes changes in the structure of the chemical propellant that ignites when an air bag deploys.” Instead of becoming less potent, the propellant ignites more quickly and more powerfully, sending metal shards through the airbag at the driver or front passenger. These shards could cause injury or even death.
Have they found the source of the issue?
One of the frustrating (and frightening) aspects of this recall is the inability to locate the origin of the added moisture. The same statement from NHTSA notes: “Testing and investigation by Takata, auto manufacturers, and independent researchers have not yet established a definitive root cause of the inflator malfunctions.”
Honda and other automakers have put extra emphasis on states and regions with high humidity, including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Saipan, Guam and American Samoa.
Which vehicles and airbags are affected?
As of the most recent release from Honda in February of this year the following cars have been included in the recall:
2003-2005 Civic Hybrid
2001-2004 Civic CNG
2010-2014 FCX Clarity
2013-2014 Fit EV
In early April, an additional 11,602 Honda vehicles were recalled, but for a different airbag-related issue. While doing the initial replacement work, Honda discovered that certain 2004 to 2007 Accords were mistakenly fitted with South American-spec front passenger airbags. Honda has voluntarily recalled to inspect, and if need be, replace affected vehicles.
How do I know if my specific vehicle is affected?
Both NHTSA (link) and Honda (link) provide lookup tools online that will tell you if your car is part of the recall. Your VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a 17-digit number located on the lower left corner of your windshield if you are looking at it from behind the steering wheel (lower right if looking at it from the headlights)
You simply type the VIN into the either of the above links to determine if your vehicle is affected. However, According to Honda, “The most up-to-date available consumer information about this action can be obtained at www.recalls.honda.com and www.recalls.acura.com or by calling (888) 234-2138.” If your vehicle is affected, you’ll receive notice from Honda. It will be clearly marked with DOT and NHTSA logos.
Why is it taking so long for a replacement to arrive?
One of the harsh realities of this recall is fallout from so many automakers using one single supplier for so many vehicles. Takata is struggling to keep up with the need to produce replacement airbag inflators. Automakers have even enlisted other suppliers to produce replacement inflators.
That means owners have been waiting months, and could be waiting many more months, if not years, for a replacement to arrive and be fitted into their car. But Honda is willing to provide an interim solution in the form of loaner cars.
“Should there be any wait for a replacement airbag inflator,” reads a statement from Honda, “Our dealers are prepared to provide alternative transportation in the form of a loaner or rental vehicle, free of charge, until your own vehicle is repaired.”
Is it safe to drive my car while I’m waiting?
According to NHTSA, airbag inflators in older vehicles are more likely to rupture, as are inflators in vehicles located in areas of higher relative humidity. Inflators located on the driver side are more likely to cause a fatal injury than inflators located on the passenger side.
Vehicles that have both driver- and passenger-side faulty inflators are at the greatest risk and could have the longest wait-times.
If your vehicle meets any of the above qualifications, it is probably not safe to drive your affected vehicle. If your vehicle does not fall into any of the categories, it then becomes a personal judgment call.
It is not recommended that you have the airbag disconnected–by a Honda dealer or any other service station. NHTSA estimates that in 2014, 2400 lives were saved by frontal airbags. It is more likely that your airbag will operate properly and according to NHTSA, “An air bag that is purposely disabled has a 100-percent chance of failing to provide any protection in a crash.”
It’s been months, and I haven’t gotten a loaner car from Honda
Worst-case scenario is that you have been waiting months, with no end in sight, and no loaner vehicles are available. With 34 million affected vehicles in the U.S. (8.51 million of which are Honda and Acura vehicles), this is a very possible scenario.
If this is the case, you’ll need to weigh your options. If you have not received a replacement airbag and have not been provided with a loaner vehicle, you should complain to NHTSA or even to the automaker itself.
You can file a complaint with NHTSA (link) or call at 1-888-327-4236. Honda’s recall hotline is (888) 234-2138. Its number for all other complains is (800) 999-1009.
What are the best odds that I get a replacement soon?
The only way to get results is to be active. Make sure you look up your VIN immediately–on both the NHTSA site (link) and the Honda recall site (link). If your vehicle appears to be affected, inform your local dealer immediately.
If you have moved since purchasing your vehicle, please notify the original dealer with your updated contact information so that you receive recall notices in a timely manner.
Be pushy. Some of the airbag work on certain vehicles won’t start until this summer, so demand a loaner vehicle. Dealers aren’t required to offer loaner cars, but dealers are often willing to go the extra mile in the name of customer service. In the end, this is a personal safety issue for you and your family, and if you don’t feel safe driving the car, you’re better off exploring your replacement options.