Are brand new cars still using questionable Takata airbags?

Houston-area dealerships may not be telling whole story

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Brand-new cars sitting on dealer lots in the Houston area will be under mandatory safety recall by 2019, and some car salesmen are not notifying perspective buyers about the issue, at least not up front, Channel 2 Investigates found.

The team visited six dealerships, and at five of them, salesmen gave incomplete, misleading or wrong information about the presence of "non-dessicated" Takata airbags inside the vehicles.

Takata’s "non-dessicated" airbags, those without a recently added moisture absorption agent, have been linked to 11 deaths and more than 150 injuries in the United States.

See which new cars are affected.
  
“The best thing is just to get rid of them all," Attorney Jim Adler said. "Throw them in the junk pile and start with some good airbags."

Adler and others are concerned that consumers are unaware they might be purchasing a brand-new vehicle with a potential safety problem and a looming recall.

It is illegal to sell new cars and trucks with recalled parts, but the new cars and trucks in question are not yet under recall, and so no rules, guidelines or laws mandate how car dealers and car manufacturers must notify buyers.

Cars and trucks under recalls preliminarily announced but not yet issued, can be legally sold.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declined to press forward, at the expense of consumers, according to some industry critics.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed in the agency because they could have concluded, if not forcing -- at least could have applied great pressure to the manufacturers to (have) them notify consumers,” said Michael Brooks, with the Center for Auto Safety.

Here are the Houston-area dealers we visited and asked the question, "Does this vehicle contain Takata airbags?"

Mercedes-Benz of Houston Greenway
--Sales associate stated the 2017 Mercedes Benz Coupe/Convertible does not contain Takata airbags. A U.S. Senate subcommittee report states this model does contain "non-dessicated" Takata airbags and will be subject to future recall.
--Calls to the general manager were not returned.
--Calls to Mercedes-Benz Public Relations were not returned.

Gillman Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram
--Sales associate stated “no,” and said there were no recalls on the 2016 Jeep Wranglers on the lot. He said the Jeeps were "good."
--The general manager said, "This would have been discovered later in the transaction. It's great you brought it to our attention. Not all '16 Wranglers are subject to this. It would have been discovered when we ran the VIN number."
--FCA (Jeep's Parent Company) provided a customer notification letter (attached), and a company representative stated, "FCA US LLC has led the industry in its response to the Takata recalls, becoming the first automaker to migrate to an alternate supplier for driver-side replacement parts. Nearly three months ago, the company also discontinued installation of non-desiccated PSAN inflators in its lone remaining model that was so-equipped."

Gulfgate Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram
--Sales associate stated the 2016 Jeep Wrangler was not equipped with Takata airbags. When asked again, he said he would check.
--He later called and said the specific vehicle we looked at already had its airbag switched to another type.
--GM sent an email: "Gulfgate Dodge Chrysler Jeep and Ram (Gulfgate Dodge) has always taken very seriously the relay of important and pertinent information to our customers, regarding any vehicle part recalls. At this time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not recalled all TK Holdings (Takata) manufactured airbags. However, Gulfgate Dodge has identified a number of vehicles that do contain an airbag manufactured by Takata. Although not required by the NHTSA, Gulfgate Dodge has taken the proactive measure of providing customers with a disclosure form, given to customers at the time of purchase, making them aware that the vehicle they are purchasing, has an airbag that was manufactured by Takata. This disclosure form also informs customers that the NHTSA has not found the airbag in the vehicle they are purchasing to be unsafe at the time, and has given TK Holdings until 12/31/2018 to take certain action toward a recall. Customer safety is a top priority at Gulfgate Dodge, and we are committed to making every effort to keep our customers informed and safe."

Mike Calvert Toyota
--Sales associate stated the 2016 Toyota 4Runner may contain Takata airbags. He stated there was no way for him to know unless there was some way he could possibly have a VIN traced.
--The general manager said, "As we are doing the car deal, we inform the customer from the onset about the Takata airbag with a letter."
--Toyota’s Governmental Affairs section provided the letter (attached).

Archer Volkswagen
--Sales associate correctly identified that a 2016 Volkswagen CC contained Takata airbags, and said the parts would be recalled.
--The general sales manager said, "When we get any sort of bulletin from Volkswagen, we pass it along directly to our sales people."

Autonation Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram/Houston
--Sales associate stated that 2016 Jeep Wranglers are not subject to current recalls or future recalls.
--An attorney for Autonation was called once, he said he would research the issue, but has not called back.

2016 Click2Houston/KPRC2