By on August 25, 2021

The Takata airbag recall was the largest in the automotive industry. So large, in fact, that we don’t actually know how many defective units are still floating around out there.

With the recall encompassing over 100 million airbag inflators sold around the world with the potential to kill occupants with shrapnel, keeping tabs was always going to be difficult. But Blomberg is reporting that it’s effectively impossible to account for all of them, noting that there are parts of the planet where the affected customers weren’t ever notified. We still haven’t even managed to fix all the units we knew were shipped in the United States, with at least 14 million potentially deadly inflators still presumed to be on the road as of July. 

While that’s bad news for North America, the U.S. is typically much better at contacting customers about recall campaigns than other nations. That’s something of particular importance when a recall is unprecedentedly large and therefore difficult to manage. Over 37 fatalities and 450 injuries have been attributed to defective Takata inflators, with some of those occurring a few months ago. But the recall officially started in November of 2014. By the following year, the campaign had swelled to encompass 40 million vehicles and officially became the largest recall in history — and it just kept getting bigger from there.

In an attempt to humanize the situation, Bloomberg cited several of the more recent incidents. Though its primary focus was a secondhand Honda CR-V equipped with a Takata airbag that exploded during an accident in Mexico City last December. The vehicle was backed into at low speeds, setting the safety device off and the defective unit killed the driver. Her husband has insisted they were never notified of any defects. He only found a recall had been done after a friend of the family brought it up as a possibility afterward.

“Someone needs to be held responsible,” said widower Ruy Drisaldi. “You buy a car with air bags and assume you’re protected. I now realize all the years we had that car, we were driving with a gun pointed to our heads.”

From Bloomberg:

The incident in Mexico illustrates how auto safety recalls, even for deadly defects, can fly under the radar in parts of the world with weak regulatory regimes. In the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has taken unprecedented steps to not only oversee but also coordinate the industry’s campaign to replace the tens of millions of inflators. An independent monitor also prodded companies into adopting more effective outreach techniques beyond what’s required by law. Nothing similar is going on in Mexico, where companies say there’s not even an effective registration system through which they can locate owners of used cars.

“While the U.S. recall system is flawed, in other countries we see systems that are virtually nonexistent,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a consultant and advocacy organization in Rehoboth, Mass.

The outlet estimated that there are likely millions of vehicles still on the road with defective Takata inflators and no good way of ensuring that all customers will be notified. Many of the affected vehicles are older and likely to be on their second or third owner at this point. There’s only so much automakers can do via normal outreach channels when the recall is this large and there’s only so much they’re willing to do since this is ultimately costing them money.

Odds also favor the likelihood that there are countless incidents relating to the Takata airbags that never get put together or reported. Some countries don’t even have a way of reporting such a situation and there are clearly people out there that have no clue they could be driving around with potentially life-threatening safety equipment sitting directly in front of them. All in all, it remains a grim situation.

“Cases are tied to these failures only when companies acknowledge the problem,” stated Alejandro Furas, head of the New Car Assessment Program for Latin America and the Caribbean that lobbies governments on safety regulations. “We’re regrettably in the hands of the industry. The companies know this and take advantage of it.”

Fortunately, those living in the United States can still find out if their car is affected by going to the NHTSA’s Takata Spotlight page and brushing up on the details. It might also be worthwhile to chuck in your VIN to see if you’re car is under recall.

[Image: D. Pimborough/Shutterstock]

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18 Comments on “Takata’s Killer Airbags Are Still Out There...”

  • avatar

    Two data points which are possibly relevant:

    “From 1987 to 2017, frontal air bags saved 50,457 lives.”

    “NHTSA estimates that more than 290 deaths were the result of frontal air bag inflation in low-speed crashes from 1990-2008. Most of those deaths were in vehicles made before 1998, and more than 80 percent of people killed were not wearing a seat belt.”

    (Oops sorry, looking at the second sentence in the second quote above, I suppose that is more than one data point.)

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “There’s only so much automakers can do via normal outreach channels when the recall is this large and there’s only so much they’re willing to do since this is ultimately costing them money.”

    The only reason it’s costing them money is that Takata is bankrupt. Honda – for its part – has begged owners to bring their cars in. I think they’ve even worked with the DOTs from every state to track down the VINs. Seems like they are willing to do quite a lot.

    However, it’s become clear lately that we live in a society where recalls, software updates, and vaccines – things that are good for you – are mistrusted because lay people know better than the experts who make the products.

    There really are some people you can’t reach.

    • 0 avatar

      Honda came to my house and replaced the front airbags in my ‘03 CRV in my driveway. A young man was driving around in a new CRV with a blue Honda shirt, very polite and professional, a trunk full of new airbags. He said he did four or five a day. Start to finish in less than 20 minutes.

    • 0 avatar

      I question how hard Honda has tried. I received multiple CR-V recall notifications at my current address. But they were for a person who lived here years ago. I wanted to make sure the recall notice actually reached someone. I tried contacting Honda through their website (not very effective). I think I was eventually able to call someone. I explained why I thought it was important that they update their records so the recall notice would reach the intended recipient. It could save a life.

      The person on the other end said that Honda could mark the VIN to stop sending recall notices. I said, “No, don’t stop, just send them to the right person.” The person’s name was Hispanic, and pretty unusual. There are probably fewer than 50 people with this name nationwide. I suggested that a people search might give good results – they could easily match this person with their past address, and find a current address.

      Honda’s representative said they *only* use state DMV records and make no other effort to find affected people. So if the person didn’t update the registration (because he or she moved to Mexico, for example), Honda would have no way to reach them. And Honda apparently considered that the end of the matter.

      It’s very similar to the situation described in this article.

    • 0 avatar

      Honda was a major shareholder of Takata.

      “…Takata executives are focused on finding short-term solutions to their troubles. That may not be easy. Honda Motors, which has now turned to Takata’s competitors for inflator units, accounted for almost 40% of the company’s revenues last year.”

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Of course there are still defective airbags out there on the road-just as there are irresponsible vehicle owners.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I have had 2 recalls on air bags on my 2008 Ranger and after each time the air bag light is still on. The dealer said only the sensor in the dash was covered and that the light is either a sensor in the bumper or something else. I asked them if the air bag would still work and they told me as long as the light is on it will not work. I had to make another appointment for them to diagnose and fix whatever is causing the air bag light to stay on even though they told me that I would have to pay for it. I have no structural damage to the Ranger nor is there any rust on the front. Also after the last recall my dash lights will not come on. These recalls can be very frustrating.

  • avatar

    I traded my 08 Mustang at a Ford dealer in 2015.. I was still receiving the “waiting for parts ” letter for at least another 2 years after.

    I bought my 05 Mustang from another Ford dealer in 2018..Within a month that dealer did the recall..Was it a Ford problem , or a dealer problem ?? Go figure ..

  • avatar

    Just got notification for my 2000 Audi S4….unexpected….Audi America is still waiting on parts.

  • avatar

    I wonder if this is why I keep getting calls reminding me to renew my vehicle warranty is about to expire. Which I never had.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I love those. I like to respond with something like “Oh good…I have been worried about the lack of warranty on my Model A”.

      • 0 avatar

        I love my mailbox full of postcards and my voicemail full of calls saying that my 2020 vehicle with 8,000 miles on it has an expiring warranty. Check your records guys…

      • 0 avatar

        Haven’t got one of those calls in a long time. I always asked them “What car are you calling about”? When they had no idea, I followed up with “Is this about the Hudson Terraplane, or the Pierce Arrow?”

  • avatar

    I find it fascinating that not only would the airbags deploy explosively, but that a truckload of their propellant blew up during a delivery back in 2016.

  • avatar

    To be clear, a detonated Takata killer bag would not look anything like the stock photo used with this story.

    The whole problem with the Takata bags is that they used a cheaped-out propellant that took on moisture as it aged, making it explore with more force than intended. As a result, when detonated, it exploded with such force that it shattered its metal enclosure, turning the enclosure itself into a shower of shrapnel that penetrated the driver’s face and body like so much buckshot. There are real photos out there of victims, and they look like they’ve been shot 50 times all over. It’s quite gruesome.

  • avatar

    closing their US plants to move to mexico in 2000 was an issue

  • avatar

    Ah yes – the appeal to authority. “Experts” should always be trusted:

    There are some extremely thick people out there, but I don’t think there is a single person on the planet who actually thinks their original, defective, Takata claymore is actually better than the replacement unit.

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