Airbags have saved untold thousands of lives since becoming standard equipment in cars and trucks in the 1990s. Yet any device that relies on a controlled explosion to function will also have the potential to maim or kill – a danger brought home by as many as 14 deaths worldwide linked to faulty airbag inflators produced by Japan’s Takata Corp. and used by many carmakers.
Fears that more inflators will rupture and shoot metal shards through vehicle cabins have prompted the largest automotive recall in history – with 4.3 million airbags recalled in Canada alone. And while the risks here are significantly lower than in hotter climates, owners are still being urged to ensure their cars and trucks are safe.
Here’s what you need to know about the Takata recall:
Why are the inflators rupturing?
Prolonged exposure to the high humidity found in places like Florida can cause ammonium nitrate, the propellant Takata adopted for its inflators in the early 2000s, to become unstable. Investigators say the chemical can explode with too much force and send pieces of the inflator capsule flying.
Why is this a concern in Canada?
According to Transport Canada, only 15 per cent of recalled airbags had been repaired as of June. There have been no reports of Takata inflators rupturing here, but given the potential consequences of a faulty airbag, it’s not a fix you should put off.
Which vehicles are affected?
Canada’s recalls cover certain cars, sport-utilities and trucks from the 2002 to 2016 model years from 13 manufacturers; most are products of Honda, Toyota and Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler), but Nissan, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Ford and even Ferrari also are represented.
How do I tell if my car is on the list?
Check Transport Canada’s airbag recall site. If you see your vehicle and haven’t received a mailed notice, your manufacturer probably doesn’t have your address. Check in with a dealer that sells your brand of car or truck to register your ownership and arrange repairs; you can also register through manufacturer websites and customer relations phone lines.
In a worst-case scenario, a mass airbag recall could cost Takata US$24 billion.
Aren’t these old recalls?
The first Takata recalls came in 2008, but the bulk were issued in 2015 and 2016, some as updates to previous recalls after more was learned about the propellant problem. And more recalls are expected through December 2019 under a phased-in program ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S.
Investment bank Jefferies Group LLC estimates the global total could reach 118.5 million airbags, rising to 205 million if regulators also order recalls of inflators containing desiccants added in an attempt to keep the propellant safe.
Are only Takata airbags under recall?
So far. But Canadian and U.S. investigators are studying a July 8 collision in which an 83-year-old Newfoundland woman was killed by an exploding inflator made by another automotive supplier. Transport Canada says it is too early to say whether that death could lead to even further recalls.
Is an inflator likely to rupture at any time?
No. The danger comes only when an airbag is triggered by the vehicle’s sensors in a collision.
Are repair parts available?
Updated airbags were directed first to high-risk regions such as the southern U.S., but now are reaching Canadian shelves. “The majority of replacement parts are available now,” said a Honda Canada spokeswoman. FCA Canada said its supply of new airbags exceeds demand, and urged owners to contact dealers to schedule service.
Is it safe to drive my car until it can be fixed?
Transport Canada stops short of “safe,” but will say the risks here are low. An exception, though, are 2001–2003 Honda and Acura models already recalled in 2008 and 2010, which new U.S. research says could be at higher risk of failure. Honda Canada says it has repair parts on hand for those vehicles. In cases where parts remain on order, some manufacturers are providing loaner cars on request.
Why don’t I just turn off my airbags?
Even if you could find a garage willing to do this – in many cars, it involves more than just pulling a fuse – it’s a bad idea.“Airbags are proven and effective safety devices,” says Transport Canada. “Serious or fatal injuries caused by airbag deployment are very rare and the department feels the benefits still outweigh the risks of not using an airbag.”
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