What is a recall? Carmakers confuse U.S. drivers in deadly air bag saga

Sun Nov 16, 2014 8:10am EST
 
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By Barbara Liston, Julia Edwards and Patrick Rucker

ORLANDO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of U.S. Toyota drivers have received a stern warning by first-class mail: Immediately drive to your dealer to replace a flawed air bag, and in the meantime don't let anyone sit on the passenger side.

Thousands of Chrysler drivers with similar air bags are unlikely to get a formal notification until December. Meanwhile, they can expect free tickets to Disney World in exchange for allowing their air bags to be tested.

Over the past six years, at least five deaths have been linked to air bags supplied by Japanese safety equipment maker Takata that could rupture upon deployment, spraying metal shards inside the car. More than 17 million cars have been recalled worldwide, including over 11 million in the United States.

The number, however, represents a patchwork of "safety improvement campaigns," informal "regional recalls," and formal recalls of certain models rather a consistent national action.

Some car owners are promised immediate repairs, others are told they will have to wait, while others have not been contacted at all.

Behind the confusion is carmakers' reluctance to commit to costly repairs while they still puzzle over what makes some bags explode and the U.S. safety regulators' inability to nudge them towards full-scale recalls.

Robert Lamoureux, 47, a coordinator for an events production firm in Orlando, heard about exploding airbags on the news weeks ago and confirmed on Honda's website that his 2002 Accord SE was among the models that should be brought to a dealer.

But the site told owners to wait for a notice in the mail, which only arrived at the end of October.   Continued...

 
Displays of Takata Corp are pictured at a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo in this file photo taken November 5, 2014.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files