When life-saving airbags contain hidden defects, they can become lethal weapons. That awful irony is the story behind several tragic deaths and many injuries believed to be caused by certain defective airbags manufactured by Takata Corp. (sometmes,"Takada"). In the event of an accident, the faulty airbags may explode, sending shrapnel-like metal fragments into the driver or passenger. It is not a pretty sight, and the injuries have even been described as "stabbing wounds."
In an urgent announcement - unusual in scope and timing - the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued an alert this week warning owners of more than five million vehicles to “act immediately” to get the air bags fixed.
Honda, Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Mazda and Ford are all involved. For a list of all affected make and model cars, click here
There is a lot of confusion with such an announcement. Fortunately, NHTSA provides a tool for determining whether your car is affected by the safety alert, simply by looking up the VIN. You can find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on your registration or inside the driver's side door. Then, you can look it up here. Unfortunately, so many people tried to access the webiste earlier this week, it crashed. However, it should be back online soon.
One of the problems is that the affected cars are not new or even late-model. Some are as much as ten years old. The original new car warranties have expired. Out of warranty, these cars are less frequently repaired or repaired at independent shops, which may not have access to the latest manufacturer's information. Subsequent owners may be hard to find.
Meanwhile, there is considerable doubt whether Takada will even be able to supply sufficient replacement parts to meet the demand. Toyota and others have suggested that they might have their technicians just disable the airbags until parts can be obtained. This is small comfort to those who have come to rely on airbags, which are proven to save lives under ordinary conditions. Drivers would do well to remember the old catch-phrase with which we all learned to drive: "Buckle up, for safety, buckle up."