47ºF

Millions of potentially defective airbags may never be replaced


HOUSTON – Millions of drivers of some of the most popular SUVs and pick-up trucks on the road are waiting on new airbags to replace those defective, potentially deadly Takata airbags.

But now, vehicle owners are learning their airbags may never be replaced. Consumer expert Amy Davis discovered one major car manufacturer petitioning federal regulators to delay the fix and reverse the recall.

Chuck Sprick's 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe is in tip top shape with just 60,000 miles on it; but he's a bundle of nerves behind the wheel.

"Every time you get in it, you think about the damn airbags," Sprick told Davis.

He's talking about the same airbags in an estimated 37 million vehicles that safety officials keep warning us about.

"They can explode like a hand grenade," warned a speaker at a news conference in Fort Bend County earlier this month. The group Airbag Recall, along with federal, state and local leaders are urging drivers to take their vehicles to dealerships for the free airbag replacement. But when Sprick and millions of others call their local dealership, they get the same message.

"'Yeah, we understand, but we don't have the parts,'" Sprick said a manager of a local GM dealership told him. "'As soon as we get the parts, we'll get you on the list and tell you to bring the vehicle in and we'll change the airbags out.'"

That conversation was in 2016 when Sprick received the first recall notice by mail. On his most recent follow-up call, a GM dealer referred him to this GM website.

"GM does not believe a safety defect exists in these vehicles," Sprick read.

The site includes a list of vehicles the company believes should not be included in the massive Takata recall. They include several different model years of Chevrolet Silverados, Sierras, Avalanche pick-up trucks, Tahoes, Suburbans, Yukons and Cadillac Escalades. The company asked federal regulators to delay the decision to recall 4 million of these SUVs and trucks while it investigates the risk. You can read GM's full petition here and below.

 

 

DV.load("https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5021128-General-Motors-LLC-Third-GM-Petition-for.js", { responsive: true, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: false, container: "#DV-viewer-5021128-General-Motors-LLC-Third-GM-Petition-for" });

General Motors LLC Third GM Petition for Inconsequentiality (PDF)
General Motors LLC Third GM Petition for Inconsequentiality (Text)

 

"Do you think GM has any intention of replacing the airbags?" Davis asked Sprick.

"No, I don't really think they are," he answered. "They're dumping paperwork on the federal government and they're playing the system to try to avoid the cost of replacing those airbags."

GM spokesperson Tom Wilkinson emailed this statement: "If, at some point in the future, we believe that the inflators in question pose an unreasonable risk to safety, customers will get a notice telling them to take their vehicles to the dealer for repairs, and the recall info and vehicle VINs will be on the NHTSA Recall website."

Currently, when Sprick and millions of vehicle owners type in their VIN to NHTSA's website, it alerts them that there is one recall associated with the vehicle. It goes on to read, "This is based upon Takata’s decision that front passenger airbag inflators it supplied to GM are defective. GM has submitted to NHTSA a Petition for Inconsequentiality and NHTSA has granted GM until August 2017 to complete its investigation and to submit all data supporting the petition."

"Frankly, what they're doing is they're waiting for more incidents to happen," said attorney Mo Aziz.

Aziz represents the family of Huma Hanif, the Fort Bend County 17-year-old who died when the Takata airbag inside her 2002 Honda Accord exploded, shooting shrapnel into her neck.

She is one of 15 people to die from a defective Takata airbag. The problem is the ammonium nitrate inside. Takata said it used that same chemical compound in the airbags it manufactured for General Motors.

"Every airbag that Takata made which has ammonium nitrate in it as an inflator, is going to fail," Aziz said.

General Motors disagrees, writing in the petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that the inflators Takata made for its light trucks and SUV's "are truly safer and more resistant to rupture than other Takata inflators." It estimates more than 63,000 inflators have deployed in GM vehicles since model year 2007 and none have failed or ruptured.

When Davis asked NHTSA when it will decide to enforce the recall or grant GM's petition, a spokesperson replied by email "This petition remains under consideration."

"I'd like to believe GM," said Sprick. "One of the articles I saw said that they had done testing on the airbags and that they were good for 30 years. I'd like to believe that; but I don't know."

Nineteen different car makers are included in the airbag recall. Many do have replacement airbags available. If your dealer has told you in the past they do not yet have replacement airbags, NHTSA said you should check back at least twice a year. You can enter your car's VIN at this website to find out if your airbag is included in the recall.

For more information on GM's stance and petition, visit www.regulations.gov and search for Docket No. NHTSA-2016-0124.