‘Not right:’ Drivers can’t get fix for faulty air bags

Pam Casteel, Takata air bag recall
Pam Casteel was informed that the Takata air bag in her car was being recalled in July 2016. She doesn't expect a fix until this spring at the earliest. (Jan. 9, 2018)

CLARKSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — When Pam Casteel heard this week that Japanese manufacturer Takata would add 3.3 million air bags to its already giant recall, she couldn’t believe it.

“I’m thinking to myself, are you kidding me?” the Clarksville wife and mom recalled. “I can’t even get my vehicle fixed now.”

Casteel’s 2008 Ford Edge is one of thousands of vehicles on Michigan roads that have recalled air bags that still haven’t been replaced.

Takata air bags can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least 20 people have been killed worldwide and more than 180 injured. The majority of the deaths happened in southern states and Malaysia, though one person died in Pennsylvania.

The number of recalled air bags, spread across at least 15 automakers, could reach 70 million by next year.

Because the recall is so large and capacity for parts is limited, the government is prioritizing which air bags get replaced first. The oldest air bags in the hottest, most humid regions are first in line because they’re most at risk for malfunction.

“This isn’t about an owner not taking their vehicle in to get repaired,” Casteel said. “Everybody’s on hold because nobody can get parts to fix the problem… It’s not right… and it’s frustrating.

“I work hard. I pay good money,” she continued. “I bought a great car. I should be able to feel safe in that car.”

Casteel received her first recall notice on the air bag in July 2016. She says at the time, her dealership, Harold Ziegler Ford in Lowell, told her it might not get replacement parts until 2017.

Turns out that was optimistic. Now the dealership is telling her spring 2018.

“It’s not Harold Ziegler’s fault,” Casteel said. “They’re not getting parts from the manufacturer.”

While Casteel waits for the replacement, she has changed how and where she drives.

“I find myself avoiding the expressway, especially in our Michigan weather when the roads are questionable,” she said. “I would rather go slower and take a back road than risk being on the expressway and losing control.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration advises drivers not to disable the air bag while awaiting a replacement.

“It is much more likely that your air bag will perform properly and protect you in a crash than cause harm,” an NHTSA official wrote on the agency’s Takata airbag FAQ webpage. “An air bag that is purposely disabled has a 100-percent chance of failing to provide any protection in a crash.”

The NHTSA posts regular updates to the Takata recall on its website.

Whether you have recalled air bags or not, the government urges car owners to check for recalls at safercar.gov at least twice each year.