Law Offices of Paul K. Schrier, PLLC

Why are automakers so slow to repair airbags?

Replacing defective Takata airbag inflators has been deemed "Priority One" by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and for good reason. The defective inflators have a high risk of rupturing in an accident, shooting shrapnel at vehicle occupants. At least 18 fatalities have been reported so far, including a recent death of a 34-year-old woman in Florida. Given the priority level, why have automakers been slow to comply with the recall?

As of June 23, with more recalls to come, only 16 million of the 46 million currently-recalled inflators had been replaced, including 10 million of the inflators at highest risk for ruptures. In Florida alone, just one-third of the three million recalls have been completed, which is concerning given that high-humidity can increase the likelihood that the inflator will rupture.

Recall completion by automaker

Quarterly reports by automakers to the NHTSA show somewhat dismal recall completion levels across the board, particularly as recalls began in mid-2015 and we are just months away from the December 31 deadline. A missed deadline can result in the NHTSA imposing fines on each offending car company. 

The latest reports as of June showed the following percentage of completion for each automaker:

  • BMW - 28.6 percent
  • Daimler Vans - 8.4 percent
  • Fiat Chrysler - 48 percent
  • Ford - under 40 percent
  • Honda - 63 percent
  • Mazda - under 50 percent
  • Mitsubishi - 31 percent
  • Nissan - 25.6 percent
  • Subaru - 57 percent
  • Toyota - around 50 percent

Potential causes of recall delays

When dealing with millions of effected vehicles, it understandable that the recall process would be difficult for car companies, dealers and owners. Many automakers cite trouble obtaining parts, issues locating owners and difficultly persuading owners to fix their vehicles as reasons for slowed recall progress.

In the case of backlogged parts, many vehicle owners are being turned away even though they've received recall notices. And many owners have been either difficult to find, unreachable or have not taken the recall seriously.

Solutions to speed up recall process

The NHTSA is encouraging automakers to use similar efforts as Honda to complete recalls. To reach 63 percent, Honda developed several strategies to overcome recall obstacles. This includes using letters, social media and phone calls to reach out to owners and sending technicians to owners' homes to do repairs in major metro areas. Automakers are also being urged to work cooperatively with suppliers to expedite delivery of necessary parts to dealerships.

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