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Automotive recall announcements keep bubbling in the news cycle, and although it might be easier to simply ignore them, the Takata airbag recall is one that demands your attention. According to USA Today, improperly inflating Takata airbags have resulted in the deaths of 21 people worldwide and injuries to more than 180. The issue: The chemical propellant designed to rapidly inflate the airbags can degrade over time, especially in hot and humid climates, causing the propellant to ignite too quickly and rupture its metal container, sending shrapnel toward vehicle occupants.
Just before we went to press for our April print issue, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and several auto manufacturers announced an additional 1.2 million vehicles affected by these defective airbag inflators. This brings the total number of vehicles affected to more than 42 million, with 69 million airbag inflators affected.
This is one of the largest and most complicated automotive recalls in history. So what should you do? Find your smartphone, tablet, or computer, and point your web browser to nhtsa.gov/recalls. Then get your vehicle registration, or wander to the front of your car’s windshield on the driver’s side, and locate the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Tapping this number into the site’s VIN checking field will let you know whether your car has defective airbags (or other outstanding recalls) and needs to be serviced. Additional resources, including more details on the recall and on how to get your vehicle fixed, are also on the site.
Checking your VIN is free, and if your vehicle has a defective airbag, getting it repaired at your local dealer is also free. Anyone who tells you differently is flat-out wrong; if it’s someone in the service department, the dealer principal needs to be informed immediately, along with the manufacturer he or she represents, the Better Business Bureau, and NHTSA.
It bears repeating that more than 42 million vehicles are affected, covering 19 manufacturers and some 34 brands at this point. On the affected vehicle list is everything from the 2002 Toyota Sequoia to the 2017 McLaren 570S, so if you think you and your loved ones are probably fine, you’re taking an unnecessary risk. Maybe you don’t have a car on the list, but how about the co-worker you go to lunch with or the neighbor in the carpool with your kids? Have teenagers? What are their friends driving? Probably something a few years old. Even ask your Lyft driver if he or she has had it checked (those people love to talk). Sounds funny, but the risk is real.
Several manufacturers have expressed concerns to us about how, despite concerted efforts, getting vehicle owners in for this vital service has been exceedingly difficult—particularly for older models purchased on the second-hand market because car companies and their dealers lose the ability to follow up with new owners.
And the recall numbers are only going to go up. Given the size and complexity of the problem, NHTSA has rolled out the recall in phases that started in May 2016, with updates at the end of each December. The final phase is scheduled for December 31, 2019, at which point all affected vehicles will be identified and recalled.
Until then, check early, and check often at www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.