Airbag Recalls: Quick Facts & How To Check Your Car

  • With the summer travel season in full swing, have your car checked for safety recalls.
  • The Takata airbag recall continues to affect vehicle owners across the United States.
  • Free resources are available for you to view any and all safety recalls on your car.    

When was the last time you checked your vehicle for safety recalls? If you can’t remember, now is a good time, especially with the summer travel season in full swing. A recent AAA Travel survey finds nearly 100 million Americans – four in 10 U.S. adults – are planning a family vacation this year. With regard to summer road trips specifically, 68 percent of all travelers say they will embark on a summer getaway. If you are planning a trip, we want to help keep you safe. Taking care of any outstanding recalls – especially airbag recalls – before you embark is always a good idea.

Even if you are not hitting the road this summer, it’s still a good idea to check. Here is what you need to know.

What Are “Open” Safety Recalls?

A recall originates when a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a certain vehicular component poses a safety risk or fails to meet minimum standards. “Open” is in reference to an incomplete or outstanding recall. By law, automakers must address these recalls by replacing the part for free. The United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety (Title 49, Chapter 301) defines motor vehicle safety as something that should protect the public against the unreasonable risk of accidents (i.e. death or injury) due to the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle.

More than 53 million vehicles – approximately one in five – have open safety recalls.

Automakers send letters to original vehicle owners within 60 days notifying them of the defect and how to get it fixed. However, the National Safety Council says the recall repair rate is just 44 percent for vehicles five to 10 years old. Within that time frame, an owner may have moved, or sold or traded the vehicle in question. As a result, current owners may not be aware of such recalls; still others know but perceive it as unimportant.

For these reasons, NHTSA recommends updating your vehicle registration and mailing address, and taking the necessary actions regarding safety recalls.

According to the National Safety Council, 42 million vehicles have unaddressed airbag recalls.

Airbags Among The Highest Number of Recalls

Of the 53 million vehicles with open recalls, a staggering 42 million have unaddressed issues pertaining to Takata airbags. If these airbags deploy, occupants are at risk of injury or death from metal fragments acting as projectiles. According to NHTSA and as detailed by Consumer Reports, the Takata airbags in question use an ammonium nitrate-based propellant absent a drying agent. Heat and humidity over time can cause these airbags to improperly inflate and explode upon deployment; thus spaying metal fragments into the cabin.

Based on NHTSA’s findings, there have been at least 24 deaths and 300 injuries globally.

Vehicles manufactured by BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota are among those affected. Last year, Consumer Reports noted that U.S. lawmakers were frustrated by the lack of progress with regard to the issue. Officials expect another round of Takata airbag recalls, which may span the next couple years. NHTSA describes the Takata airbag recall as the largest and most complex in U.S. history.

Some Affected More Than Others

Airbag Recall, an organization that champions awareness about airbag safety recalls, says vehicle owners in North Carolina and Hawaii are at risk. Their first report finds more than 600,000 North Carolina residents are driving a vehicle with defective airbags. In Hawaii, more than 70,000 residents own a vehicle with open airbag recalls. According to the law offices of Newsome Melton in Orlando, Florida, the Sunshine State is the most impacted by the recall, affecting 1.3 million vehicles statewide.

Nationally, the recall campaign encompasses tens of millions of vehicles from 19 manufacturers, and over 200 models and model years; although some vehicles are more susceptible than others.

What You Can Do To Stay Safe

Have your mechanic or service advisor check when you take your car in for routine service. They can look for open recalls while you are there and possibly even fix them the same day. Get in a habit of checking for safety recalls each time you get your oil changed.

NHTSA’s Safercar.gov website and corresponding mobile apps allow you to look up recalls by VIN number. The mobile apps will send recall alerts as they happen; or you can sign up to receive e-mail updates regarding recall notices. The National Safety Council’s Check To Protect program is another valuable resource for vehicle owners. Supported by automakers, safety advocates, and industry leaders, CheckToProtect.org is free and instantly checks for open safety and airbag recalls.

Sources: Airbag Recall, Consumer Reports, National Safety Council, NHTSA.

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