De­spite warn­ings, ex­tremely dan­ger­ous air bags not re­paired 300,000 Hon­das ef­fected

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Own­ers of more than 300,000 Hon­das have yet to get their air bags re­paired, de­spite warn­ings from the au­tomaker and reg­u­la­tors that the in­fla­tors have an ex­tremely high chance of rup­tur­ing and caus­ing in­jury or even death.

Last week au­thor­i­ties said one of those air bags, equipped with an in­fla­tor made by Takata Corp., rup­tured and killed a Cal­i­for­nia woman, adding ur­gency to the search for the non­com­pli­ant ve­hi­cles.

About 69 mil­lion Takata in­fla­tors have been re­called due to pos­si­ble rup­ture. In June, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors said test­ing showed that in­fla­tors in 313,000 older Hon­das and Acuras had as high as a 50 per­cent chance of rup­tur­ing in a crash. The reg­u­la­tors told own­ers of the cars to stop driv­ing them and get them re­paired. But four months later, only 13,000 of the cars have been re­paired. Takata uses am­mo­nium ni­trate to cre­ate an ex­plo­sion to in­flate air bags. But the chem­i­cal can de­te­ri­o­rate when ex­posed to heat and hu­mid­ity and blow apart a metal can­is­ter, spew­ing shrap­nel. The in­fla­tors have killed as many as 16 peo­ple world­wide and in­jured more than 100. The death of the Cal­i­for­nia woman, Delia Robles, was the 11th tied to Takata in­fla­tors in the US.

Honda tries it’s best

Honda says it has mailed let­ters, placed Face­book ads, made tele­phone calls, and in some in­stances has vis­ited own­ers. But the re­sults point out that ma­jor holes re­main in the US safety re­call sys­tem be­cause own­ers can be hard to find, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to used cars that have changed hands mul­ti­ple times. And some own­ers refuse to get re­pairs done no mat­ter how many times they are no­ti­fied.

Safety ad­vo­cates have called for laws ban­ning the sale of any ve­hi­cle un­til re­call re­pairs are made, or a na­tional re­quire­ment that re­calls be done be­fore li­cense plates can be re­newed. But so far, there are few such re­quire­ments.

Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Florida, says Honda should do more. “No re­spon­si­ble au­tomaker should be so slow in re­pair­ing de­fec­tive ve­hi­cles where there’s up to a 50 per­cent chance a driver could be killed or se­ri­ously in­jured if an air bag de­ploys,” he said in a state­ment last week.

But Honda says it’s do­ing all it can. “It’s not for lack of un­prece­dented ef­fort to try to reach these own­ers,” com­pany spokesman Chris Martin said. Honda will pick up cars and drop off a loaner, says Martin, who adds that Honda has parts ready to re­pair all the dan­ger­ous cars.

Karl Brauer, ex­ec­u­tive pub­lisher of Au­to­, says it’s hard for au­tomak­ers to find own­ers of low-cost cars that are 10 or 15 years old, be­cause many own­ers are young and move fre­quently or are im­mi­grants who may have lan­guage bar­ri­ers. Many cars have had four or more own­ers, mak­ing them harder to find. But be­cause these cars are so dan­ger­ous, Brauer says it’s time to ei­ther go to every­one’s home or take all 300,000 off the road.

NHTSA doesn’t have le­gal author­ity to or­der those steps, spokesman Bryan Thomas said. The agency knows that tra­di­tional ways of con­tact­ing own­ers haven’t been suc­cess­ful, and it’s work­ing with Honda on new meth­ods, he said with­out of­fer­ing specifics. NHTSA is seek­ing a rule re­quir­ing au­tomak­ers to no­tify own­ers by e-mail and text mes­sage, mea­sure that some au­tomak­ers al­ready take vol­un­tar­ily.

Thomas said Honda has told the agency that many of the 300,000 cars have been scrapped, but the agency wants proof. Robles, 50, of Corona, Cal­i­for­nia, was killed Sept. 30 when her 2001 Honda Civic was hit head-on by a left-turn­ing pickup truck as she was on her way to get a flu shot. Honda’s Martin says she bought the car in mid-2015, likely from a small used-car dealer who pur­chased it two weeks ear­lier at an auc­tion, which only deal­ers nor­mally at­tend. While most au­tomak­ers re­quire new-car deal­ers to fix used cars sub­ject to a re­call, in­de­pen­dent deal­ers don’t have to.

Honda mailed Robles mul­ti­ple no­tices us­ing an ad­dress from Cal­i­for­nia reg­is­tra­tion data, Martin says. The car was first re­called in 2008, and since then, Honda has sent the four reg­is­tered own­ers 20 let­ters, he says. There’s no way for Honda to ver­ify if Robles re­ceived the let­ters. Her son, Jose Con­tr­eras, said Fri­day that she never men­tioned them to him. Martin says it’s not prac­ti­cal for Honda to visit all the own­ers with su­per­dan­ger­ous in­fla­tors. But he and other Honda em­ploy­ees have gone to some homes.

Last sum­mer in Tor­rance, Cal­i­for­nia, Martin spot­ted a 2002 Acura TL with a dan­ger­ous air bag parked on a city street. He left busi­ness cards and even a per­sonal let­ter on the wind­shield, but heard noth­ing. So he went to the owner’s nearby home. She didn’t speak English well and had her son speak to Martin. They set up an ap­point­ment for later this week to get the in­fla­tor re­placed. — AP

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