GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Whether Michigan drivers can get a critical repair to their air bags depends a lot on the brand of vehicle they drive.
It’s the largest automotive recall in U.S. history: Takata started taking back air bag inflators after it was found they can explode with too much force and spray shrapnel. At least 22 deaths have been blamed on the faulty inflators. The recalls began several years ago, but there are still millions of unrepaired vehicles on the road.
Pam Casteel of Clarksville told Target 8 in January that she has been trying to get the air bags on her 2008 Ford Edge replaced since first getting the recall notice in July 2016. She checks on the status every time she goes to her dealership, but keeps being told it can’t get the repair parts in.
“I keep my recall notice right above the visor in my car and I pull it out and say, ‘Hey guys, what’s the scoop?’ They said, ‘Well, to be honest with you, it’s going to be April of 2018 (before a repair is available).’ I’m like, ‘Seriously, come on guys, I want my car fixed,'” Casteel said. “This devalues my car. It makes it a driving threat. Every time I get behind the wheel, it is a threat.”
Not everyone has had a wait like that.
“I saw the spot about the lady with the Ford product that was waiting about a year or so and she’s got six months more to wait or something. And I thought, that’s just not the way it’s working with Hondas, anyway,” Dave Teitsma of Caledonia Township said. “It’s been a real easy process for us.”
Since the recalls began, he and his family have had five Honda vehicles repaired under the recall.
“The first one probably took about 60 days to get the parts in,” he told Target 8. “Over the last year and a half or so, they’ve said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got the parts in stock now, we don’t have a supply issue, so we’ll schedule it as soon as you can come in and bring it in and we’ll replace them for you,’ and they did.”
WHAT’S THE HOLDUP FOR SOME BRANDS?
Target 8 wanted to know why some car companies have parts available right now while other brands do not.
“I think that’s a question for the companies,” Jason Levine of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety told Target 8 in a Skype interview. “Some, I think, have been trying harder, some have made it more of a priority, some have more to buy than others.”
Levine said part of the problem is capacity. At the time of the recalls, nobody was making 60 million air bag inflators a year. Most companies have reached out to third-party suppliers, but they can only make so many air bags at once.
Another issue is priority. The air bag inflators are more likely to fail in climates that are hot and humid. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has prioritized replacements, meaning the oldest cars in the hottest climates get parts first. Michigan falls low in the priority list.
Target 8 crunched the numbers from NHTSA: The latest data from Jan. 5, 2018, shows the companies with the most recalled air bag inflators are also the ones who have made the most repairs.
Honda vehicles account for about 41 percent of all recalled air bag inflators. The company has already repaired 73 percent of the more than 16 million affected inflators. Chrysler has repaired more than 3 million inflators to date and Toyota has replaced more than half of the 5 million affected. All three companies tell Target 8 they have parts available right now in Michigan.
Ford accounts for just 4 percent of the recall and has repaired 45 percent of its 1.5 million recalled inflators.
“Unfortunately, Ford seems to be fighting harder than many of its competitors in terms of trying to extend or exempt the air bag inflators that need to be replaced,” Levine told Target 8.
So what is behind the Ford delays?
“We are working with our suppliers to expedite parts as quickly as possible,” said Elizabeth Weigandt, the safety communications manager for Ford. “As you can imagine, the Takata recalls have posed a lot of parts challenges for all OEs and Ford is working hard to make replacement inflators available to our customers as quickly as we can.”
However, in filings with the NHTSA, Ford says it is working through engineering issues. The replacement inflators don’t fit right in the space designed for the Takata inflator. Ford has had to re-engineer and test the new inflators, leading to supply delays. In November, Ford asked NHTSA to push back some repair deadlines indefinitely as the automaker works to produce appropriate replacement parts.
General Motors and Mazda have raised similar issues and also asked for extensions.
SO WHAT SHOULD DRIVERS DO?
You can find out if your vehicle needs a new air bag inflator by going to the NHTSA webpage on the Takata recall. If your vehicle is under recall, contact your local dealership to schedule repairs if possible.
Brands with parts available say the problem they have now is getting customers in to get the repair. Some Chrysler dealerships have been hosting what they call “Air bags & Appetizers” events to entice drivers to come in and get their vehicle fixed.
Toyota and some others have partnered with third-party repair shops, having them check vehicles for open recalls and referring them to the dealership.
Honda has begun going door to door to find the owners of the most at-risk vehicles. A spokesman told Target 8 it is difficult finding the owners of some of the oldest vehicles in the recalls.
One common complaint is a misunderstanding of the process: Some customers fear the repair will cost them something. Automakers want to be clear that the repair is completely free, and some will even provide a free rental vehicle for you to use while the repair is being made.
If you find the parts aren’t available for your vehicle, there isn’t much you can do to speed things up. However, the Center for Auto Safety suggests you check with your dealership often and push for a loaner vehicle until repairs are made.