What to do if your Takata air bag has been recalled

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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Drivers are going to be waiting a long time to get their cars fixed, up to two years to get all these airbags replaced.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- One in seven, that's how many drivers on the road right now have vehicles with potentially deadly air bags. And finding out if you're on the list hasn't been easy. The web site which allows you to check by your car's VIN number is overwhelmed.

Also, the recall is so massive -- automakers are still working to compile a complete list. And on top of that, it could take years to fix 34 million cars. But is there anything you can do now?

Takata tested over 30,000 of its air bags. And about one in 100 ruptured when they deployed. Drivers are going to be waiting a long time to get their cars fixed, up to two years to get all these airbags replaced but there is something you can do and one thing you should not even consider.

For Scott Solis the Takata airbag recall did not happen soon enough. The family says his brother Carlos died after an exploding airbag sent debris flying. Solis says the sheer volume of this recall, nearly 34 million effected vehicles is stunning.


"It's crazy to think the car you're driving, the car in front of you the car behind you could potentially be a bomb," said Solis.

When the airbag deploys it sends out shards of broken plastic that can injure or kill drivers. With more than 30 million airbags under recall it will be years before all of them are replaced. Now some drivers are wondering if they should have the safety device disabled

"Absolutely not, I would not recommend that one bit," said Jimmy Martinez with Xpress Body Werks.

Martinez runs Xpress Body Werks in Southwest Houston. He says drivers should never try to disable their airbags and no mechanic he knows would do it either. As someone who has seen deployed airbags on a daily basis, Martinez says drivers are safer with the devices even if the airbag is under a recall notice.

But there is a suggestion for drivers. It's believed that shorter drivers sustain more serious injuries when they are closer to the airbag, so if you have two cars and one is on the recall list, the taller person in your family should drive it. That will not be possible for Kim Stephenson's family.

"Both of my vehicles have it, so it doesn't really matter," said Stephenson.

Prior to Tuesday, automakers had recalled 36 million vehicles worldwide because of the problem.

Before Takata, the largest recall in U.S. history was in 1980 when Ford Motor Co. had to fix 21 million cars and trucks with automatic transmissions that could slip into reverse. The Takata recall dwarfs last year's highly publicized recall of 2.6 million General Motors small cars for defective ignition switches and Toyota's recalls of 10 million vehicles for problems with unintended acceleration.

Rosekind said the agency and auto industry are still trying to determine precisely what is causing Takata's inflators to explode, but action needed to be taken immediately.

Takata's air bags use ammonium nitrate to inflate in a crash. But the chemical, which can be used to make bombs, is volatile. So far, testing has found that airborne moisture can get into the inflators and cause the ammonium nitrate to burn hotter than it should, Rosekind said.

He urged car owners who get recall notices in the mail should immediately make an appointment to get their cars fixed. Owners can key in their vehicle identification number at https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/ to see if their car is part of the recall. The number is stamped on the dashboard near the driver's side windshield and also can be found on state auto registration documents.

On Feb. 20, NHTSA began fining Takata $14,000 per day for failing to fully cooperate in the investigation. That fine accrued to more than $1.2 million before it was suspended Tuesday due to Takata's cooperation, NHTSA officials said. Other civil penalties are still possible, they said.

Still, it likely will be months or longer before Takata and other companies can manufacture all the needed replacement inflators. Inflators will be allocated to older cars and to high-humidity areas first, where people are most at risk, the agency said. The expansion will cost Takata millions of dollars.

Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada said in a statement that the action is a "clear path" to restoring the trust of automakers and drivers.

"We are committed to continuing to work closely with NHTSA and our automaker customers to do everything we can to advance the safety of drivers," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report