Most au­tomak­ers slow to fix de­fec­tive air bags

Honda has re­placed the most, but still has 3.3M to go

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By 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 a crash. 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 NHTSA, 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-yearold mother of three near Tampa.

Of NHTSA’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 one-third of the in­fla­tors had been re­placed.

“The long and short of it is the re­call is fail­ing,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Fla., a fre­quent NHTSA 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 40 percent. But more re­calls are com­ing, which will put a fur­ther strain on car com­pa­nies, deal­ers and own­ers to get the re­pairs done.

NHTSA say it’s “deeply con­cerned” that some au­tomak­ers have low com­ple­tion rates.

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 NHTSA 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 driver-side 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 through 2006 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.

Spokes­woman El­iz­a­beth Weigandt says 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 says.

“We are work­ing with our sup­pli­ers to ex­pe­dite fi­nal rem­edy parts for these ve­hi­cles and ex­pect those to be avail­able in early fourth quar­ter 2017,” she says, de­clin­ing fur­ther com­ment.

Quar­terly re­ports filed by BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Daim­ler Vans, Nis­san, Mazda and Mitsubishi showed com­ple­tion rates un­der 50 percent.

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

Joe Raedle, Getty Images

A de­ployed air bag is seen in a 2001 Honda Ac­cord at a Florida sal­vage yard in 2015.

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