Teresa McUsic

How to find out if your car or truck is affected by airbag recall

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., holds an auto air bag during a hearing before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Tuesday. Lawmakers are seeking answers from Japan's Takata Corp. and federal regulators as they focus on the biggest auto-safety recall in the U.S. history.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., holds an auto air bag during a hearing before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Tuesday. Lawmakers are seeking answers from Japan's Takata Corp. and federal regulators as they focus on the biggest auto-safety recall in the U.S. history. AP

Look down the street where you live and chances are there’s at least one car or truck on your block involved in the Takata air bag recall. The recall of 34 million air bags announced last month is the largest recall in U.S. history.

Eleven automakers are affected including BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. The years are 2000-2008 for six of the automakers and 2000-2011 for the other five.

The air bags can explode violently when they deploy, sending pieces of metal flying into the cabin. Six deaths, including one in Oklahoma, have been linked to the problem.

Not all models are affected, so how do you know if yours is?

An easy way to find out is to put your license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN) into a new app by CarFax. Called MyCarFax and available for free through iTunes or Google Play, it can tell you about all open recalls on your car from data updated daily from auto manufacturers.

The app also will inform car owners when future recalls come out on their car — an important feature for large recalls such as the Takata air bags, which may take months before all of the affected vehicles are identified by the carmakers.

The app also will track your vehicle’s service history, including oil changes and tire rotation, registration, and safety and emission inspections — all information received from either the state or your service shop.

For those who still don’t have a smartphone, CarFax has a similar service for your personal computer at www.mycarfax.com that will email car owners when a new recall comes out on their vehicles. Both the app and online service can hold up to five vehicles.

Texans have a huge problem with recalls, CarFax spokesman Christopher Bosso said.

“Texas is No. 2 in the most cars with open recalls [4 million vehicles] and the most cars purchased with an open recall last year [400,000],” he said. “That’s a high ratio. One out of every five cars on the road in Texas has an unfixed recall.”

Nationwide, CarFax estimates 46 million vehicles, or 1 in 6, on the road had open or unfixed recalls before the recent Takata air bag announcement, Bosso said. California leads the states with the most open recall vehicles.

The Takata recall is “probably the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the news conference last month announcing the expanded recall.

It could take up to two months for all affected vehicles to get into the recall system, and then up to five years for them all to be fixed, said Jack Gillis, automotive expert for the Consumer Federation of America and the author of The Car Book, published with the Center for Auto Safety.

Disabling the air bags is not recommended, Gillis said.

“Air bags and safety belts do save lives,” he said. “It is unlikely that all 34 million air bags recalled have a problem — a very small number of people have had it happen to them and there is very good chance you will not experience a problem.”

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it will organize and prioritize the replacement of the air bags, with states that have high humidity — including Texas — getting a priority on notification.

Over time, moisture from humidity can cause changes in the structure of the chemical propellant that ignites when an air bag deploys, Takata has said. The degraded propellant ignites too quickly, producing excess pressure that causes the inflater to rupture and to send metal shards into the passenger cabin, which can lead to serious injury or death.

“While the root cause of this problem is not fully understood, humid regions with high moisture in the air can exacerbate the problem,” Gillis said. “Consumers in those areas have likely already received a recall notice and should respond immediately.”

Two other places to check on the recall are the automaker’s website and by using the NHTSA’s search tool at www.safercar.gov. You simply type in your car’s VIN.

Safercar also has a free mobile app for Apple and Android smartphones to look up recall information by the VIN.

The 17-digit VIN is in the lower left corner of the front windshield. It may also be on your registration and insurance cards.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

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