Dan­ger­ous air bags not be­ing re­paired

Honda has sent warn­ings to 300,000 ve­hi­cle own­ers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Tom Kr­isher AP Auto Writer

DETROIT » 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 U.S.

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 U.S. 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 Au­to­trader. com, 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.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Se­nate Com­merce Com­mit­tee mem­ber Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Fla., dis­plays the parts and func­tion of a de­fec­tive airbag made by Takata of Ja­pan that has been linked to mul­ti­ple deaths and in­juries in cars driven in the United States, dur­ing the com­mit­tee’s hear­ing Nov. 20, 2014, on Capi­tol Hill in Washington.

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