Monday, June 15, 2015

Editorial: The Takata Airbag Recall and You

Image courtesy of the Budapest Business Journal
By now, most people have already heard of the massive airbag recall issued by the NHTSA. If you have not, here are some basics that you need to know. Late last year, Honda had issued a massive recall regarding its airbags installed in early and mid 2000 Honda and Acura branded vehicles. A defect in the inflator and propellant devices may deploy incorrectly during a crash and cause metal fragments to shoot out at occupants. Honda's airbag supplier is the Japanese corporation, Takata, which is well known for its seat belts, steering wheels, and other interior trim and safety pieces. Enthusiasts recognize the Takata name for their racing harnesses and other race car safety equipment.

What was originally thought to be just a Honda issue soon bled over to Toyota, whose airbags were also supplied by the Takata Corporation. As it turned out though, Honda and Toyota were not the only companies sourcing their airbag and airbag components from Takata. To date, a total of 16 manufacturers are now affected by the recall. For a full list of manufacturers, as well as which vehicles are affected, you can visit the link below, which is supplied by Car and Driver magazine.

The above link also provides links to identify whether or not your own vehicle is one of the affected makes and models in the recall. Car and Driver is also continually updating the page with the latest updates regarding the recall.

So what does this mean for you? Odds are, if you are driving a pre-2000 era vehicle or a very recently built vehicle, you are most likely safe. If you are unsure, it does not hurt to consult with your dealer or the manufacturer itself. However, if your vehicle is on the affected list, you should have already received a notice from your vehicle's manufacturer to take your car to the nearest dealership to have the airbag replaced with a non-defective unit. If such a letter or notice has not yet been received, your local dealer can look up your vehicle's info using its vehicle identification number (VIN) to determine if your vehicle is on the affected vehicles list.

Image courtesy of Car and Driver
Now, you might be wondering how such a large corporation like Takata could allow something like this to spiral out of control. By their own admission, Takata said many things could have cause the airbag defect. In one report, Takata admitted to improperly storing and handling the propellant chemicals, which may have caused the metal airbag inflators to burst open due to excessive pressure. Takata later blamed humid weather, which spurred more recalls. In a later report, Takata admitted that rust, bad welds, and even a worker dropping their chewing gum into an inflator are also to blame. In the same report, Takata also admits that their Mexico plant allowed for a defect rate that was six to eight times higher than the acceptable limit.

This sort of careless manufacturing bothers me (and it should bother you) greatly. By letting all these issues slide during the manufacturing process, the Takata Corporation is essentially playing with people's lives. As drivers, we count on the airbag to save our lives when an accident occurs. Oftentimes, accidents are outside of our control. Many drivers will now have to wonder if the airbag will save their life, or if they will end up with a face full of shrapnel. Considering the massive financial hit Takata will take during the recall, I would certainly hope that the people in charge of the manufacturing division that let these manufacturing defects go have already been fired. I also hope that this recall serves as a lesson to those in the automotive safety business that the safety of your customers is not the kind of game that you win by cutting corners to save some money.

Speaking of financial hits, both Takata and the auto manufacturers involved in the recall will now have to divert millions of dollars towards this recall instead of putting it towards research and development. Rather than researching new safety technologies, these companies are now going to have to spend a fairly long period of time fixing a technology that has existed for years. And to think that all of this happened because of a bit of carelessness and laziness. 

As a long time Honda owner, I am also disappointed that it took Honda this long to discover this potentially fatal issue. At the same time though, I do have to wonder: did Honda know about this issue years ago, but chose to ignore it because nothing had happened? I would certainly hope that whoever is in charge of quality control at Honda has higher moral standards than that. I also have to wonder whether or not I should be worried about this issue. While the S2000, regardless of model year, is nowhere to be seen on the list of recalled cars, I am fairly certain that my car is still full of equipment produced by Takata. Because of Takata's admitted lapse in manufacturing standards, do I now need to worry that if I turn too hard, my seat belt will disintegrate? Do I need to worry that if I ever get into an accident, the airbag will either just not deploy at all or send shrapnel into my face and chest? It is Takata's poor manufacturing practices that make me question whether or not I should trust them as a company at all.

I suppose Honda is not the only company I should be questioning when the topic of trusting car companies and their suppliers comes up when looking at a new vehicle. Dozens of other companies have been hit hard by the Takata recall. While most of the recorded deaths caused by the faulty airbags have been in Honda vehicles, what is to say that this would not happen to anyone inside of a Toyota, or a Ford, or a Chevrolet? The real question here is why all of the other manufacturers are now just "discovering" this airbag issue after Honda. Whatever the case, I just hope that car manufacturers realize that customer safety is not something you can cut corners on.

And while this may seem a bit dark, I suppose the other good to come of this recall is that perhaps drivers will be more careful, knowing that there is what is essentially a fragmentation grenade sitting in their steering wheel aimed at their face and chest.

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