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

 

Autonomous cars cause confusion, pose hazards

Auto manufacturers are rushing to be the first to sell cars that are semi-autonomous. But they have failed to invest in adequate training for sales personnel who can explain the features — and their limitations.

So what can go wrong?  Here’s one example: According to a recent report in Automotive News,  “As Donna Lee approached the intersection of Roberts Drive and Spalding Drive in Sandy Springs, Ga., the salesman in the passenger seat told her not to hit the brakes, even though two cars were stopped and waiting at the red light ahead.

According to court documents, Lee and Mercedes salesman Desmond Domingo have similar accounts of what happened next on the evening of May 10, 2014. The Distronic semiautonomous system in the Mercedes-Benz GL450, which Domingo believed would bring the car to a full stop, did not kick in as he expected. The Mercedes slammed into the car in front of it at around 40 mph, causing a chain reaction of crashes that left a 16-year-old driver with a concussion and significant damage to the cars involved.”

CARS has testified at forums regarding autonomous vehicles that they should not be offered for sale to the public until they are fully autonomous, and they have been proven safe through at least one year of real-life testing in all normal weather conditions, including heavy rain, fog, and snow. Otherwise, consumers who purchase the cars may end up stranded, or in collisions — particularly if they purchase the cars as used vehicles, and are not familiar with their limitations.

Read more:   Automotive News: Autonomous features ripe for misunderstanding

National Automobile Dealers Association in denial about safety

The President of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Colorado car dealer Jeff Carlson, claims that only 6% of recalled vehicles are “hazardous.” That means he thinks that cars like this one, that killed a 17-year-old Texas teenager, are NOT “hazardous.”

ABC News report: 17-year-old killed by exploding Takata air bag

Try telling that to her family.

That also means that he doesn’t consider any of these defects, which have killed and maimed many car drivers and their passengers, to be “hazardous”:

  • Stalling in traffic
  • Catching on fire
  • Faulty brakes
  • Steering loss
  • Seat belts that fail in a crash
  • Axles that break
  • Hoods that fly up while you’re driving in traffic
  • Sticking accelerator pedals
  • GM ignition switches that turn off and eliminate power steering and braking, and cause air bags to fail to deploy

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

Bottom line: Carlson and NADA cannot be trusted to decide whether a car is safe to sell. When it comes to safety, they are absolutely clueless. And a real danger to American society.

GM “certified” cars face Federal scrutiny

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that it is investigating advertising of General Motors’ “certified” used cars, regarding their safety recall status. The FTC is the first federal agency to take action to protect the public from car dealers’ sales of unrepaired recalled used cars. CARS applauds the FTC for acting to police vehicle safety in the used car market, under existing laws.

According to the Detroit News, “GM said it was notified June 3 of the investigation by the FTC that concerned “certified pre-owned vehicle advertising where dealers had certified vehicles allegedly needing recall repairs.”

CARS and our consumer group allies have been urging the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on CarMax, over its sales of unsafe, recalled used cars. CarMax is the largest retailer of used cars in the U.S. CarMax advertises that all its vehicles must pass a rigorous “125 – point inspection” to qualify to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles.

However, CarMax openly admits that it knowingly and deliberately sells cars that are being recalled by the manufacturer because they have lethal safety defects. CarMax neglects to ensure that the cars are repaired and safe to drive, before offering them for sale. The CARS Foundation and CALPIRG Education Fund recently issued the report “CarMax Is Endangering Lives in California” about the unsafe, recalled cars CarMax offered for sale in Oxnard and South Sacramento, CA.

New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs was the first local agency to crack down on car dealers’ sales of unsafe, recalled used cars, under a law in New York that requires dealers to certify that vehicles they offer for sale are roadworthy.

Read more: Detroit News: GM Faces FTC Investigation

 

Honda: “Oh, and by the way, this Honda’s air bags may explode in your face”

In case you thought that other auto manufacturers were smarter than GM, or at least capable of learning from GM’s mistakes, here’s a reality check:

Honda is now specifically allowing its dealers to sell unsafe, recalled used cars with faulty air bags that are prone to spewing metal fragments that become sometimes-lethal projectiles — as long as they get the used car buyer’s signature on a written “disclosure”  — which the dealer can hide in a stack of documents and slip in AFTER you have already agreed to buy the car, settled on a price, and spent 4 hours at the dealership.

Safety Research and Strategies writes about why cars equipped with  these defective air bags are finally being recalled — because of horrific incidents like these:

“In May 2009, 18-year-old Ashley Nicole Parham.of Oklahoma died in a 2001 Honda Accord, after her vehicle [collided with] another car in the school parking lot, tripping an explosion that sent a piece of metal right into her carotid artery.

In 2010, Kristy Williams, a Georgia college student, was stopped at a light, when her airbags deployed, expelling metal shards, which severed her neck and carotid artery and required two weeks in intensive care. Williams’ case against Honda was settled for an undisclosed sum.

On Christmas Eve, Guddi Rathore was at the wheel of her 2001 Honda Accord, when a U.S. postal service truck pulled out in front of her. The minor fender bender caused the airbag to explode. The metal shards severed the arteries in her neck, killing Rathore in front of her three young children, also occupants in the Accord.”

One of the complaints SRS documents, that was filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

“Oncoming driver crossed center line making a left turn in front of Honda driver. Honda struck passenger side of turning vehicle. Both driver and passenger side airbags deployed. However, the diver side airbag inflator ruptured and propelled a one-inch piece of shrapnel into the driver’s right eye. Loss of sight and severe lacerations to nose requiring 100 stitches.”

Even if those disclosures would pass legal muster — and some legal experts think they may be worse than no disclosure at all — what sort of car dealer would deliberately sell their customers a car with an air bag that may explode in their face and blind or kill them?

Read more:

Automotive News: Honda pushes dealers for buyer’s signatures on air bag liability

Safety Research and Strategies: NHTSA finally gets curious about exploding air bags