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What You Must Know About the Exploding Airbag Recall

Discover if, or when, your vehicle will be recalled.

Airbags are meant to save your life in a collision, but it turns out that millions of airbags made by Takata have the potential to kill you. Over time, a mix of age, humidity and heat can degrade the chemical inside the airbag inflator, potentially causing the inflator to rupture when the airbag deploys during a crash—and shooting what is essentially shrapnel at drivers and passengers. This dangerous defect has caused 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S.

So far, nearly 70 million vehicles have been recalled—or soon will be—for faulty airbag inflators, adding up to the largest safety recall in U.S. history. In May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would be phasing in recalls of between 35 million and 40 million Takata inflators (mostly in passenger airbags) by the end of 2019, on top of the nearly 30 million mostly driver’s airbag inflators that have already been recalled. (For more details, click here.)

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Consumers are notoriously lax when it comes to taking their cars in for recalls. But with so many potentially deadly devices in so many vehicles, the level of alarm is high. Problem is, you may not be able to get a replacement anytime soon. A shortage of available parts means that only about one-third of affected airbags have received a fix so far, according to NHTSA.

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“The reality is, manufacturers are not stepping up as much as they need to,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy group. “It’s hard for me to commiserate with manufacturers who say they are doing everything they can to ramp up production,” he adds, because carmakers helped enable the whole mess by using Takata’s products despite growing evidence of design and manufacturing issues.

What to do

If your vehicle is affected, you should have received a letter from your automaker. Even if you haven’t, run your vehicle information number (VIN) through the search tool at Safecar.gov every few months or sign up for alerts at the site. Your make and model may turn up later.

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Contact one or more dealers in your area who sell your brand of car to schedule a repair as soon as possible. Just don’t expect the repairs to happen next week. Vehicles are prioritized based on age and whether they were sold or registered in hot, humid states, such as Florida and Texas, because those factors increase the odds that your airbag will fail.

If the driver’s airbag is faulty, ask your dealer—or the manufacturer, if your dealer won’t budge—for a loaner car while you await a fix. To improve your chances, says Kane, “go up the chain and continue to press for a rental or replacement car.” (If only the passenger airbag is being recalled, your chances of getting a loaner drop, but you can put passengers in the backseat.)

Some automakers are offering an interim, or “like for like,” fix, which means your airbag inflator will be subbed with a newer—but still problematic—Takata inflator. That inflator will eventually have to be replaced as well. Plus, you’ll be shunted to the end of the priority line and may not be called in for a permanent fix until 2019. Still, “if you have an extended period before replacement, I would consider a near-term fix,” says Karl Brauer, of Kelley Blue Book.

What if you simply wait until a replacement airbag is available? Don’t even think about disabling your airbag. Aside from certain Honda and Acura models (according to NHTSA.gov), the odds of injury in a crash without an airbag are far greater than with a potentially defective airbag. To reduce the risk, move your seat back as far as you can while still comfortably controlling the vehicle, suggests Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group.

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