Cars with deadly Takata airbags you may not even know about

Last March, Las Vegas teen Karina Dorado was in a low-speed crash that normally wouldn’t have resulted in serious injuries. But she was driving a 2002 Honda with a checkered past. It had once been in a crash and was “totaled” by the insurance company.  Some people might expect that to be the end of the road for that car.

But insurers auction off wrecked cars to the highest bidder. Those wrecks are often purchased by unlicensed, untrained rebuilders who lack the equipment, or the desire, to perform a proper repair.  It would be very expensive to fix the vehicles so that they are safe to drive.

Instead, they cut corners, leaving the vehicles with major problems that can cause death or serious injuries.

According to news reports, the Honda that Dorado was driving had a recycled recalled Takata airbag that was removed from a 2001 Honda Accord. It was not the original one that came with her car. Instead, it was a faulty airbag that was prone to exploding with excessive force, spraying metal fragments into the driver’s face and neck.  When her car was in the crash, metal from the recalled airbag punctured Dorado’s windpipe, almost causing her to bleed to death.

Under the the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000, it is illegal to sell a used automotive part that was recalled, but not repaired. However, the law is seldom enforced.

How can you avoid buying a car with a recycled killer Takata airbag?

  1.  Check the federal database of total loss vehicles established by the U.S. Department of Justice. Keep in mind that no database is 100% complete, and there are huge gaps in each of them.  This one includes ONLY vehicles that were “totaled” by the insurer, or self-insured company (such as a rental car company).  It does NOT include vehicles that sustained major damage, but were not totaled, or recalled cars.
  2. ALWAYS get any used car you are considering buying inspected by both a skilled mechanic and a reputable auto body shop of YOUR choosing BEFORE you buy. Make sure they check for signs that the car was in a crash that may have caused the airbags to deploy. Don’t trust the seller. Insist on getting your own inspection. If they won’t let you do that, walk away. They are hiding something. A good place to find a good mechanic and body shop: Car Talk’s Mechanics Files

More tips on how to buy a car, without having to go to a car dealership

Read more:  KSAT Investigative report: Why are recalled Takata airbags being recycled?

Why don’t consumers get unsafe recalled cars fixed?

GM, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, the National Safety Council, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, mayors and other elected officials, are investing millions in an attempt to reach owners of older recalled cars and persuade them to take their vehicles to car dealers for recall repairs. They’re using advertisements, social media, even private investigators who track people and find out who owns vehicles that have repeatedly changed hands.

They are trying to impress on the owners that their safety is at stake, and driving without repairing the safety recalls is too risky. The biggest challenge: the millions of older vehicles with Takata airbags that are prone to exploding with excessive force, spewing shrapnel into the faces, necks, and chests of drivers and passengers, causing victims to bleed to death.

But the messages that consumers are getting from the auto industry are extremely mixed. The former Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Jeff Carlson, a Colorado car dealer, claims that “only 6 percent of recalls are ‘hazardous.'” Carlson and the NADA have been opposing federal legislation that would require dealers to fix all safety recall defects on used cars, prior to sale — in addition to the existing protections under state laws in all 50 states.

He claimed that “Such a move would ground millions of cars unnecessarily and diminish vehicle trade-in values.” That attitude is dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible, but it’s all too common in the car dealer world. By that nutty calculus, none of the following safety defects would be considered “hazardous” — brakes that fail, steering loss, sticking accelerator pedals, catching on fire, wheels that fall off, seat belts that fail in a crash, or a myriad of other safety defects that have claimed hundreds of lives and maimed thousands of people.

No wonder consumers are confused about whether it’s worth taking time off from work to take their car to a dealership that may be over 100 miles away, and where they may not get a loaner car, while their car sits waiting for repairs. Meanwhile, many consumers would be without their only means of transportation to get to work, and get their kids to school, or get to medical appointments.

Car dealers across the country have also been urging state legislatures to allow them to get away with selling unsafe, unrepaired recalled cars without repairing them first. What message does that send to the public about the importance of getting safety recall repairs? If the cars are so unsafe, they should be repaired first, right? Shouldn’t the car dealers, who are the professionals, set the right example? Of course they should.

It appears that the car dealers’ double standard is aimed more at forcing consumers to go to car dealerships for repairs, than at ensuring their safety. Once there, consumers are often subject to high-pressure tactics to sell their car and purchase a new one. Among the scams common at many car dealerships — refusing to return the car keys unless the consumer buys another car.

Recent complaints about car dealers posted on Quora: “I had my car keys taken at the dealership and was almost forced to purchase a car (refused to let me leave).”

Automotive News: Carlson vows to press NADA’s fight against regulation

Bottom line: Consumers should take safety recalls seriously. So should auto dealers. Car dealers need to do the right thing, comply with state laws, and stop selling unrepaired, defective recalled used cars — shifting the burden onto consumers. Auto manufacturers should offer roving repairs to consumers with unrepaired recalled cars where they work or at their homes. And the National Automobile Dealers Association should acknowledge publicly that of course all the cars with Takata airbags and other safety recall repairs are unsafe, and should be repaired immediately.

Takata admits guilt. But who pays for cars with unsafe airbags?

Thanks to enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice the Department of Transportation, and the FBI, airbag manufacturer Takata plead guilty to wire fraud and agreed to pay a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties. Why? Because the company had committed fraud, concealing dangerous defects in its airbag inflators, which have caused at least 11 deaths and approximately 180 injuries, including blindness and brain injuries, in the U.S.

According to the law enforcement agencies, Takata executives engaged in a cover-up that lasted for at least 15 years.

According to the DOJ, “Under the terms of the agreement, Takata will pay a total criminal penalty of $1 billion, including $975 million in restitution and a $25 million fine. Two restitution funds will be established: a $125 million fund for individuals who have been physically injured by Takata’s airbags and who have not already reached a settlement with the company, and a $850 million fund for airbag recall and replacement costs incurred by auto manufacturers who were victims of Takata’s fraud scheme. A court-appointed special master will oversee administration of the restitution funds.”

Sooo — if auto manufacturers are being compensated for losses associated with Takata’s fraud, why are they and their franchised dealers still selling cars with unsafe, unrepaired Takata airbags, which are being passed onto consumers at dealerships such as CarMax?

CarMax is notorious for selling cars with unrepaired safety recalls, including defective Takata airbags that are being recalled.  CarMax advertises that all its cars must pass a “rigorous inspection” in order to qualify to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles. But CarMax fails to get the safety recalls repaired.  Consumers who buy cars with dangerously defective Takata airbags from CarMax and other unscrupulous auto dealers may not realize that there is no way they can get their cars repaired for a long time, due to severe shortages of replacement airbags.

Read more: U.S. Department of Justice: Takata Agrees to Pay $1 Billion in Criminal Penalties for Airbag Scheme