If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the Takata airbag recall: now the largest recall on record, affecting millions of cars sold in the U.S. by nearly two dozen brands. It’s a serious safety issue — but the exact situation can be confusing, given the sheer number of vehicles, automakers, and variables involved in the recall. So what’s going on? To help you understand the situation better — and to help you find out if your vehicle is affected — we’ve covered everything you need to know.
What’s the Problem?
Problems with airbags manufactured by Takata, a Japanese automotive parts supplier, came to light last year when several affected vehicles were involved in accidents. In these accidents, the airbag deployed and sent metal shards sailing into the cabin — a major problem that caused several serious injuries and deaths. The issue was eventually traced to a defective airbag inflator used in millions of vehicles manufactured by many different automakers.
What Are the Latest Developments?
In May 2015, Takata announced it’s doubling the number of recalled vehicles to nearly 34 million total models, making this the largest recall in automotive history. The recall now affects dozens of models from a wide range of automakers: BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota. Honda is especially affected, as millions of its vehicles use airbag components manufactured by Takata.
In June 2015, a Takata executive testified in front of Congress and announced that some airbags that have already been replaced under the recall may actually need to be replaced again. This is due to new developments showing that an airbag inflator previously thought to be safe may actually be tied to the “exploding airbag” incidents. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know how many cars are affected by the latest “re-recall” — or a timeline for the arrival of updated parts.
Am I At Risk?
To find out whether your vehicle is specifically affected by the recall, we suggest logging on to the NHTSA’s Takata website (http://www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/index.html), where you can input your vehicle’s VIN number to see whether it’s included in the recall. You can also call your local dealership, which should have information about whether your car is affected. If you need help finding your VIN, check your registration or insurance card, the base of your windshield, or your vehicle’s driver side doorjamb.
And remember: according to recent Congressional testimony by Takata executives, you may still need to go in for a second recall even though you’ve already had recall work performed on this issue. So if your car is manufactured by a brand that’s affected by the recall, we strongly suggest inputting your VIN on the NHTSA’s website or calling your dealership for the latest information.
How Do I Fix It?
The main reason why the number of recalled vehicles jumped so substantially in May is that Takata has expanded the geographical area of the recall. While previously limited to only high humidity areas, the recall is now nationwide. The decision to expand the recall added an additional 16 million vehicles to the already substantial 17 million-strong recall. Even if your car’s Vehicle Identification Number or VIN isn’t on the list, check back frequently because more vehicles are likely to be added in the near future.
As a result: if your car is on the recall list and you live in a high humidity area, we suggest calling your dealer right away to ensure your airbag is fixed promptly. Like all safety recalls, this one will be performed free of charge.
If you don’t live in a high humidity area but your car is on the list, we suggest exercising caution. We suspect recalled parts will initially be prioritized to high humidity areas, which means you may not be able to get your car fixed right away. But you should continue to call your dealer for updates until your vehicle can be fixed.
Should I Drive My Car?
Given the potential severity of the issue, driving a car affected by the airbag recall can be a dangerous proposition — especially if you live in a high humidity area. While we don’t think you need to completely curtail your driving, we suggest using your vehicle as little as possible until you can get the airbag inflator replaced. We also suggest insisting that passengers ride in the back seat, away from the potentially explosive front passenger airbag.