Best strategy for dealing with airbag recall?
April 1, 2016 9:55 AM   Subscribe

I just got a letter saying my car is now subject to the Takata airbag recall but no parts will be available to fix it for the next few months. I am going to call the dealer, but I would like to better understand my options and the associated risks and have a good idea of my preferences before doing so.

The way I see it, there are a few ways this could play out:

1) Get on the waitlist for the fix, keep driving my car as is.

2) Get on the waitlist for the fix, drive my care with the airbag(s) disabled.

3) Insist on a loaner vehicle.

The first two are obviously not ideal, but I assume that the number of available loaner vehicles is much smaller than the number of cars subjected to the recall so I would have to really insist in order to achieve the third option. The recall letter does state that it is an option though. Maybe I am paranoid, but I worry that if I create a stink insisting on option 3, they will magically "find" replacement parts but do something unethical like disabling the airbag but telling me they replaced it so I don't get the true repair later...

Is the risk of driving with a disabled airbag greater than the risk of possibly having a defective airbag AND having it deployed during the time before the fix is available? My gut says yes, or to be more specific that driving without an airbag presents a small chance of minor injury and a very small chance of major injury, while driving with a possibly defective airbag presents a very, very, very small chance of serious injury or death.
posted by nequalsone to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
We were in the same situation and I managed to find some numbers somewhere on the intarwebs. Just looking at the number of deployments and the number of deaths and injuries, the airbags malfunctioned and hurt/killed someone in around *EITHER* 1 in 50,000 or 1 in 15,000 deployments; I can't remember which.

This is still horrifying and a huge disaster because millions and millions of airbags get used in anger, so even one-in-umpty-thousand chances end up killing tens or hundreds of people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:11 AM on April 1, 2016

Geez. I've looked at this a bit, and it's a bit scary either way. While some reports say 60-80 defective bags per million, there have been two deaths and a few hundred injuries...

If it were me (assuming loaner vehicles aren't available) - I'd disable the passenger airbag and I'd be the only person I'd let drive the car while I waited for parts. I'd call the dealership the very day they said they'd have parts and make sure I was a polite enough annoyance that I stayed near the top of their priority list.

I'd avoid carrying passengers if at all possible during this time, and make sure passengers knew no airbag was functional if I couldn't avoid carrying them. I would, however, take my chances of a defective airbag myself and be cautious. An accident where an airbag goes off is a small enough incident rate that an 80 in 1 million chance of a bad airbag means I'd take that risk. But I'd not take that risk for anyone else.

(Aside just to state the obvious): Obviously you'd have seat belts on so your chances of needing the air bag to prevent serious injury is reduced anyway, because ONLY A TOTAL MORON refuses to wear a seat belt in a car.
posted by Brockles at 10:11 AM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

This may vary by manufacturer and model. My wife's Honda Fit just got the recall letter and everything I've read about it online is that Honda will absolutely pay for a rental for the duration, but you have to ask. The letter doesn't say that outright, however.

The Fit recall is on the driver's side airbag. I've read that some models are only affected on the passenger side, so they'll put a sticker on it and say it's fine to drive as long as nobody sits there.
posted by zrail at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

My parents' Honda Fit was recalled and they got a 2016 CR-V as a loaner from the dealership. I would go that route, personally.
posted by mmmbacon at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, when you call they may tell you to leave the car in the driveway and arrange alternate transportation to pick up your rental. So, you may need to get a friend to drive you.

Here is a forum post with other people's experiences with this recall.
posted by zrail at 10:16 AM on April 1, 2016

Are you another Subaru owner? We got the notice and I was not happy to realize my husband, in the passenger seat of my Outback, could have been perforated with a zillion injuries if we'd been in an accident. We just limited driving in it, didn't take it for trips requiring someone to be in the passenger seat, and waited for the replacement airbags to show up at our dealership though.
posted by bearwife at 10:45 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is possible to insist politely. It is also possible to bring a tin of cookies to the shop.
posted by amtho at 10:54 AM on April 1, 2016

My parents also just brought in their car and got a 2016 CRV loaner. I'd head in quickly and see if you can still snag a loaner.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I worry that if I create a stink insisting on option 3, they will magically "find" replacement parts but do something unethical like disabling the airbag but telling me they replaced it so I don't get the true repair later...

It would be hard to do this in a place where multiple people work and part inventories are computerized, etc. Even if they did "magically" find something, you could have them replace it and then have an independent shop check to make sure they did it correctly.
posted by soelo at 11:18 AM on April 1, 2016

My BMW got recalled very early, and they basically just laughed at me and put me on a list, which really didn't exist. They also said that it was not legal for them to disable the airbag (YMMV, BMW NY are jerks and this may not be true). I ended up getting rid of the car for a separate issue (hello subaru!)

BUT, my FIL in California had just bought his BMW like 6 months before, and raised holy hell about this to them, and they just gave up and gave him a new car. He also had a track record of being very loyal to that dealership so that helped his cause.

So in short, it really is being handled a million different ways depending on the dealer. I would go straight to asking for a loaner.
posted by zara at 11:31 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, thanks for the comments everyone. I was hoping for a way to wrap my head around the comparative risk of option 1 versus option 2, but it seems most agree it makes sense to go straight for option 3.

This is a Honda and the recall mentions the driver-side airbag (although it seems likely that the airbags on both sides would be manufactured similarly, maybe there is something different about how they deploy that mitigates the risk on one side versus the other). The main reason for having the car is to get the kids to school and activities--I can't really restrict usage of the car without another option. The kids don't sit in the front, but I think it will be pretty bad for them if I am extensively perforated while driving, whether they are in the car or not!
posted by nequalsone at 12:14 PM on April 1, 2016

I called my dealership today and got "Weeeell, if you feel unsafe driving it we COULD give you a loaner..." Then I called the 800 number under "Check My Honda" (1-888-234-2138) here (site includes lots of info) and talked with a very nice person who confirmed via VIN that my car was affected, confirmed that Honda is providing loaners at no additional cost (but we have to notify our insurance companies of the loaner), and gave me a case ID number. She said that when I contact my dealership again, the case ID number would provide added weight to my request for a loaner, but that no one should be denying the request.

She also said you can call any Honda dealership for a loaner. So even if you don't get repairs at a dealership, they need to help you. Call Honda directly and get a case number to be on the safe side. Good luck to us all! :)
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 2:26 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

I heard that there was a long wait with mine as well, but I called a dealer and they took me in right away. You might want to call different dealers to see if any can get you in sooner.
posted by Vaike at 4:14 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you do go the loaner route, double-check to be certain THAT car isn't also on the recall list. Or if it is, insist on proof that the loaner has already gotten it's airbags replaced --- the point being to not swap your own recalled airbags for a loaner's recalled airbags!
posted by easily confused at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

In our case (2011 CR-V) the dealer readily agreed to the loaner when we referenced what the letter said. I got there the next day to give in our car for storage until repair time... and they had a rep from the rental agency down the street on-site, handling loaner after loaner after loaner.

We now have a loaner Jeep Grand Cherokee in the driveway for however-many months it will be before the repair is done.
posted by sesquipedalia at 8:24 PM on April 2, 2016

Response by poster: A quick follow-up to say: I got my loaner and I would encourage anyone thinking about this to move forward faster rather than slower. My reading is that the situation is stressing the dealerships' systems and the supply of loaners.

I leave a message at the dealership saying I think my car is on the recall list for exploding driver-side airbags and I would like to get a loaner so I don't have to drive it around until it can be fixed. The dealer calls back, confirms that my car has been recalled and says, "We have a car for you to pick up between 1 and 5 tomorrow afternoon. After that, no promises." After arranging to get a ride to the dealer ("Can I ask you a big favor on short notice?"), taking the day off work, etc., I call back and say "OK, I'll be there at 1:30. Do I ask for you?" The response is, "No, just go to the service department like you were dropping your car off for service." OK, I cancel my ride to the dealer since I can leave my car at the service department until fixed. When I get to the dealer, there is a record of the first call, but not the second. There is no car and they say there are no more cars to provide. No idea what happened to the car that was supposedly reserved for me. A call to the rental company reveals that there is indeed one more car left. While they are on their way to bring the rental to me, I am asked to sign a service order for the fix that includes the note "Owner thinks car may be subject to airbag recall." Well, yes, but more to the point, the car IS subject to the airbag recall. I can't see this being a problem but it bothers me. Well, the rental car arrives and The Car That You Get After The Last Car To Be Had is Gone... is really small. I ride back to the rental agency to fill out THEIR paperwork. The owner (franchisee?) is fielding calls while driving and telling everyone that calls that he has no cars, so I guess that is legit! There is no "I can get you one tomorrow or later in the week" or "Let me call around and see if I can find something," just... there are no cars. When I get it home, I find the rear-facing car seat can only be installed with the front seat pushed so far forward that probably no adult I know can sit in it and installation of the other child seat is awkward as well (but not unsafe) due to the short seat height in the back. Given the paucity of options, I guess this is our car for the time being. We have decided to call it Big Red. It has 4,000 miles and no recalls. Yet.
posted by nequalsone at 10:52 AM on April 6, 2016

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