By now, we hope you’ve done some research to determine if your car is included in the Takata airbag recall. Having said that, this issue appears to have a life of its own, with makes and models being added to the list almost on a monthly basis, so you might want to recheck every once in a while. If you’ve yet to discover if your car is caught up in the Takata airbag recall, go to Safercar.gov, follow the instructions for inputting your vehicle’s identification number, and the government will tell you if you need to worry.
Consumer reaction to this serious safety problem ranges from raging panic to near indifference. You should probably fall somewhere in the middle if your vehicle is affected.
Without dragging out the chalkboard, an airbag is basically a big air pillow engineered to bring a safe and controlled stop to a person who’s accelerating at a pace equal to the forward motion of a car when it hits something, abruptly bringing it to a halt. If the car’s going 60 miles per hour, so are its passengers. A big pillow filled with air is a better object to instantly bring a passenger’s forward momentum down from 60 mph to 0 mph than a steering wheel, dashboard or windshield.
Made of a thin nylon fabric, airbags begin life folded into a compact size and stowed in the hub of a steering wheel or other locations around the car. In a frontal crash of more than roughly 10 to 15 mph, a sensor recognizes the shift in weight within a nanosecond and alerts an igniter, or inflator, when a collision is occurring. The inflator’s job is to set off an instant chemical reaction by igniting a solid propellant to create the gas that fills the airbag, which literally explodes from its compartment as it inflates. This all happens in a tiny fraction of a second.
At the heart of the Takata airbag recall is its inflator, which creates too big of a bang, not only filling the bag with air too forcefully but, in at least one case, also filling it with shrapnel from the destroyed igniter.
At the beginning of August, Safercar.gov listed 30 different brands affected by the airbag recall. So far, most of the impacted vehicles were built between 2002 and 2015. According to Consumer Reports, 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the faulty inflators. To date, more than 100 million vehicles worldwide require replacing the inflator. Nearly 70 million of those are in the United States.
As of early August and the latest numbers published by Safercar.gov, just over 10 million of those 70 million U.S. vehicles have been repaired.
Expect airbag-recall announcements to keep coming. A number of vehicles are already subject to future recalls that will be announced into 2018. In fact, Toyota is alerting potential customers shopping a few of its 2015 models still on dealer lots that they’ll be included in future recalls.
With so many replacement parts needed and in such short supply, this won’t be an overnight fix. Because humidity seems to increase the likelihood of an airbag malfunctioning, affected vehicles in areas such as Florida are at the front of the line for fixes. Older models are also receiving priority.
What it means to you: Yes, some people have been hurt and even killed in airbag-related incidents, but those are few and far between. Even if your car is on the recall list, don’t panic. The vast majority of Takata airbags will perform as they should, but you should still get the inflator replaced at the earliest opportunity.