Swap of air bag in­fla­tors slug­gish

Mil­lions in use years af­ter re­call

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - TOM KRISHER

DETROIT — A gov­ern­ment ef­fort to speed up re­calls of more than 21 mil­lion of the most dan­ger­ous Takata air bag in­fla­tors is fall­ing short, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of com­ple­tion rates by The Associated Press.

Nearly 10 mil­lion in­fla­tors with the high­est risk of rup­tur­ing re­mained in use as of March 31, the lat­est doc­u­ments filed by 10 au­tomak­ers with the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion show. That makes it likely that au­tomak­ers won’t meet the gov­ern­ment’s Dec. 31 dead­line to fin­ish the re­calls, most of which be­gan in mid-2015.

De­fec­tive Takata air bag in­fla­tors can hurl shrap­nel at drivers and pas­sen­gers in­volved in crashes. At least 18 deaths have been re­ported world­wide, in­clud­ing 12 in the U.S. In­fla­tors with a greater risk of rup­tur­ing, deemed “Pri­or­ity One” by the safety agency, are older, are of a type more prone to fail­ing, or they’ve been in high hu­mid­ity ar­eas for many years. Just last week, Florida author­i­ties were in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether an ex­plod­ing in­fla­tor in an older Honda Ac­cord killed a 34-year-old mother of three near Tampa.

Of the safety agency’s 15 high­est-pri­or­ity re­calls, 10 had com­ple­tion rates be­low

50 percent on the lat­est quar­terly re­ports from au­tomak­ers. In one re­call of Ford Ranger pick­ups, the com­ple­tion per­cent­age was only 1.1 percent. In six re­calls, fewer than onethird of the in­fla­tors had been re­placed.

“The long and short of it is the re­call is fail­ing,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Florida, a fre­quent safety agency critic. Florida has more than 3 mil­lion re­called in­fla­tors with only about one-third re­placed, ac­cord­ing to Nel­son’s of­fice.

Over­all, 46 mil­lion in­fla­tors have been re­called as of June 23. The gov­ern­ment says au­tomak­ers have re­placed 16 mil­lion, about 35 percent. But more re­calls are com­ing, which will put a fur­ther strain on car com­pa­nies, deal­ers and own­ers to get the re­pairs done.

The Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion says it’s “deeply con­cerned” that some au­tomak­ers have low com­ple­tion rates. In a 2015 or­der, the safety agency threat­ened fines against au­tomak­ers who don’t com­ply with dead­lines. Asked if fines are pos­si­ble, an agency spokesman said it is mon­i­tor­ing com­pli­ance “and will take fur­ther ac­tion as ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Au­tomak­ers say com­ple­tion rates are im­prov­ing, and they’re co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment. Some say they’ve had trou­ble get­ting parts, and most have had dif­fi­culty find­ing own­ers and per­suad­ing them to get cars re­paired. Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nis­san did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Crit­ics such as Nel­son say the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion is rud­der­less un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice, the agency has been with­out an ad­min­is­tra­tor and two top deputies. But the re­calls were mov­ing slowly be­fore Trump took of­fice, records show.

Ford’s slow re­sponse in the Jan­uary 2016 re­call of driver­side in­fla­tors in Ford Ranger pick­ups means thou­sands of trucks with dan­ger­ous in­fla­tors are still be­ing driven. A South Carolina man was killed by an in­fla­tor in De­cem­ber of 2015 when his Ranger crashed. Only 511 of the nearly 362,000 re­called Rangers from the 2004-06 model years have been fixed, with another 3,500 own­ers un­reach­able or ve­hi­cles re­moved from use, ac­cord­ing to Ford’s lat­est re­port. Ford had two other re­calls from 2015 with com­ple­tion rates un­der 40 percent.

Spokesman El­iz­a­beth Weigandt said Ford has been re­plac­ing Ranger in­fla­tors in high-risk ar­eas with newer ver­sions of the same in­fla­tors that are in the ve­hi­cles now, with the in­tent of swap­ping them for safer ones later, she said. Since the in­fla­tors de­te­ri­o­rate over time, newer ones are bet­ter.

Quar­terly re­ports filed by BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Daim­ler Vans, Nis­san, Mazda and Mitsubishi all showed com­ple­tion rates un­der 50 percent. Daim­ler hit only 8.4 percent, and BMW reached 28.6 percent. Fiat Chrysler’s lone re­call came in at 48 percent, while one Toy­ota re­call was above 50 percent and another just be­low. Subaru hit 57 percent. Be­cause of a parts sup­plier prob­lem, BMW got a five-month dead­line ex­ten­sion.

Most of the re­ports are as of March 31, the lat­est avail­able. Fiat Chrysler and Subaru fig­ures are from the sec­ond quar­ter, while the lat­est avail­able Nis­san and Mitsubishi re­ports were from last year’s third quar­ter. At that time, Mitsubishi was at 31 percent, while Nis­san reached just 25.6 percent.

Even Honda, which has re­placed more than 63 percent of the in­fla­tors in its two “Pri­or­ity One” re­calls, has 3.3 mil­lion in­fla­tors left to fix.

In a let­ter to sen­a­tors, Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion act­ing Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jack Daniel­son wrote that au­tomak­ers have had enough time to get re­place­ment parts.

Sev­eral ve­hi­cle own­ers say deal­ers are still turn­ing them away for lack of parts. John Car­roll of Bel Air, Md., near Bal­ti­more, said he checks with his dealer of­ten to see if an in­fla­tor has ar­rived for his 2010 Mercedes ML350 driver’s air bag.

“The an­swer is al­ways the same. They don’t have the parts yet,” Car­roll said.

To get more than 60 percent, Honda set up teams in ma­jor met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas who visit own­ers’ homes. In some cases, Honda will send tech­ni­cians to fix cars in drive­ways. The com­pany also has used let­ters, so­cial me­dia and tele­phone calls to reach own­ers, spokesman Chris Martin said.

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