Uneven Results of the Takata Airbag Recall

The recall of 19 million airbags, mostly produced by Takata, that are used in a dozen automobile models is the largest auto safety recall ever. The problem with these airbags is that the chemical propellant in these bags’ inflators can blast the airbag out so strongly that it can shatter the casing and throw shrapnel at passengers. Takata knew of some of this risk for a decade and could have taken voluntary action much earlier to deal with it. Eight fatalities and scores of injuries have resulted from this defect which tends to occur in areas of high humidity. This is such a large recall that the availability of replacement parts is uneven; the completion of this recall is expected to take until 2019. The availability of replacement parts varies widely by model and dealer. As of October, NHTSA said Takata and other suppliers were producing replacement inflators at a rate of 2.8 million a month. Mark Rosekind, the agency’s administrator, said regulators will decide by Thanksgiving whether and how to push that rate higher. (source)

Thus, if a consumer is told that a replacement is not yet available, this is not surprising and should not necessarily be blamed on that consumer’s dealer. Consumers do not deal directly with Takata, because it is a supplier to car companies and not itself a car company.

Given the tens of millions of these airbags in use, this is a very low risk. Given the alternative of not driving their cars, most consumers who are notified of the recall but do not have a replacement airbag available simply continue to drive their cars. Unlike driving a car with defective brakes, tires, or steering, which is a high risk, this is a decision sensible consumers can make, depending on their tolerance for such low-odds risks.

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