What consumers should know about the Takata airbag recalls

Automakers have recalled more than 50 million vehicles in 2014. The latest wave impacts certain cars with defective airbags from the Japanese company Takata. The airbags, which can can rupture and blast metal debris, have been linked to at least four deaths. Judy Woodruff speaks with Micheline Maynard of Arizona State University for what consumers drivers should know.

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    It's been the worst year ever for auto recalls, and this week provided more disturbing news, the latest concerns, just how many vehicles have air bags that could be dangerous and should be recalled. The air bags made by the Japanese company Takata can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out and injure someone.

    At least four deaths are connected with those ruptures. Federal regulators said this week that roughly eight million vehicles from nearly a dozen manufacturers should have repairs done or the bags replaced. That's on top of 14 million already recalled worldwide.

    Moreover, lawmakers said this week that as many as 30 million vehicles could be equipped with those air bags.

    Overall, this year, nationwide, more than 50 million cars and trucks have been recalled for a variety of problems. That is one in five on U.S. roads.

    Micheline Maynard has been covering this for Forbes. She is a professor of business journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

    Micki Maynard, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, the most recalls ever. How big a deal are these — this air bag problem?

  • MICHELINE MAYNARD, Arizona State University:

    I think a lot of your listeners probably heard about the General Motors issues with ignition switches.

    I actually think this is a bigger problem because it affects far more companies. It affects 11 different car companies, and it affects vehicles that were built from 2000 to 2008. And there are still a lot of those vehicles on the road.


    Is it clear then, Micki Maynard, who should have the air bags replaced, who should have them fixed? Are they being notified by the auto manufacturers?


    Yes, it's the auto companies' responsibility to notify consumers, but consumers could also be proactive by going to the Web site of the Transportation Department.

    And you can put in the vehicle identification number from your car and find out whether the car is subject to recall. In this case, I would really urge people, if they're concerned at all about their safety, to go on, see if their vehicle has been recalled, and in that case, get in touch with their dealer.

    I wouldn't wait in the situation for a letter to come from the car company. If you're really worried, call your dealer or your mechanic.


    So, in other words, even though there are only a few deaths so far, you're saying this is urgent, because some of the stories we're reading indicate the percentage of problems has been small, but there is still real concern.



    And one of the things that happens to cars as they get older is the parts get older. And, as I just said, some of these vehicles are now 14 years old, and this air bag technology, this passenger air bag technology is evolving. So the latest air bags are probably more precise than these were, but we don't know. If you drove your car over rough roads, you drove your car in a high-humidity area, you might want to take the precaution of being proactive, rather than waiting.


    We should note The Washington Post is reporting that there could end up being something like 30 million cars with this air bag problem.

    Micki, why is it that the auto manufacturers continue to use these air bags, why people weren't notified sooner about this?


    This air bag recall has really been kind of drifting along for about six years. And it was only in the last couple of years that we saw millions more vehicles added to these recalls. And one of the reasons is that cars start to get a little bit rickety as they get older. We thought quality was terrific.

    And what we're finding out is there are certain components where they don't hold up as well. And that's one of the situations that's going on here.


    But the auto manufacturers didn't recognize this? And what about Takata, the maker of the air bags? Have they continued to make this particular type? Do we know?


    This particular type is no longer being made. There's a new version that's being made.

    And one of the big problems with this recall is that Takata will have to produce the replacement parts. So here you have here Takata, which has already taken charge against its earnings of $750 million, they will have to spend the money to make replacement parts for millions of vehicles, and that's going to hold things up.

    There are only a few manufacturers in the world that make air bag inflators to begin with, and now Takata will be burdened with making millions that they didn't expect to make.


    So, are you saying there may not be enough parts to fix all these air bags?


    People are very worried about the speed at which they will be able to get their cars fixed. And we're hearing anecdotally of folks calling dealerships and trying to sign up for appointments and being told, we don't have the parts. You will just have to wait.

    I think, with all the public scrutiny that this is getting, that governments, perhaps the United States government and the Japanese government, may have to step in and certainly the manufacturers may have to step in to give Takata some help to meet the demand for these parts.


    Micheline Maynard, we thank you.


    Thank you very much, Judy.

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