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Manufacturer and federal regulator response in Takata air bag recall raises concerns

Reports of potentially months-long backlogs for safe replacement parts are troubling

Published: October 24, 2014 05:00 PM

With an estimated 58 million vehicles recalled so far this year, 2014 has been dubbed the worst year for auto recalls in U.S. history.

In recent recall news, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is urging the owners of nearly 8 million vehicles to act immediately on a recall notice to replace potentially defective air bags manufactured by auto-parts maker Takata. The recall in the U.S. covers dozens of models sold by 10 different automakers. (Read our report on the Takata recall.)

Takata air bags have reportedly been linked to more than 100 injuries and four deaths. The air bag inflators might rupture and send shards of metal at high speeds at the driver or passengers.

At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we are raising concerns with the federal government about how safety regulators, car companies, and Takata have handled this recall and what they are doing to help consumers.

The recall has been aimed primarily at cars registered in areas with “high absolute humidity,” because humidity is suspected to be a contributing factor to the problem. That government’s response is a limited approach to a national problem because the potential dangers could be much broader. A person whose car is registered in Colorado but who drives it in Florida, for instance, wouldn’t necessarily be notified about the recall. Plus, cities all over the country experience periods of high humidity.

As the number of recalled cars continues to climb, consumers need greater assurances that NHTSA has an accurate count of the affected vehicles. The agency recently apologized for network problems with its SaferCar.gov website, which prevented some people from being able to look up whether their vehicle was recalled.

While the recall list and NHTSA’s response evolve, all options to ensure maximum safety must be considered as quickly as possible. We are troubled by reports of potentially months-long backlogs for safe replacement parts.

Toyota, for one, has announced that while it waits for replacement parts, it is disabling the air bags and advising car owners not to drive with passengers in the front seat. But this is not a very feasible alternative for consumers who regularly use all the seats in their cars.

As the story unfolds, we are also asking the government, automakers, and Takata to consider alternatives for consumers, including loaner vehicles and vouchers for rental cars. And we want to know what regulators are doing to get the car companies, Takata, and possibly other suppliers to expedite the manufacture and supply of safe replacement parts for all cars that need them.

Consumers deserve better. We’ll keep pressing to get the answers and clarity consumers need to ensure their cars are safe.

Is your car part of the recall?

If you’re wondering whether your vehicle is affected by the recall, use the Vehicle Identification Number locator at SaferCar.gov.


You’ll find the VIN in several places on your car, including on the inside of the driver-side door, the bottom of the windshield, or your insurance card.


If your car has been recalled, contact your dealer immediately. Keep in mind that the Takta recall list has been changed and expanded, so check back every few days to see whether your car has been added to the list.


This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.


Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.



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