The Takata airbag recall is the largest safety recall in U.S. history. The Department of Transportation announced the recall in 2015, and since then it's grown to include 19 different automakers and more than 65-million airbags.
But there's a dangerous flaw in the government's effort. There's nothing to stop those airbags from being recycled and put in other cars.
That's what happened in 18-year-old Karina Dorado's case. She had no idea the Honda Accord her family bought in March 2016 contained a dangerous Takata airbag, but a relatively minor crash in April left the Nevada woman with a punctured trachea.
"The inflator in the airbag acted as a projectile and shards of metal went through her throat," said her attorney, Billie Marie Morrison.
Morrison said the family had no idea the car was damaged in a prior crash, and a recalled Takata airbag from another Honda used to repair her car.
"Often times when a car is in an accident and the airbags deploy, recycled airbags are used to fix the vehicle," explained Christopher Basso, public relations manager for Carfax.
Basso said these recalled airbags can slip through the cracks. They can be recycled from cars found in salvage yards and are an inexpensive way to fix a damaged vehicle.
"A normal airbag costs between $1500 and $3000 to replace, so a recycled airbag is really pennies on the dollar to replace," Basso said.
The scary part is, no one is tracking them.
"You get used to the security of thinking you have an airbag in there and they work, as far as I know," said driver, Jack Pregeant.
Once a car ends up in the junkyard, a recycled airbag won't come with a warning it is on a recall list.
"There's no way for the manufacturer to track the vehicle and advise you that the airbag is in for recall," said Doug Campbell, Louisiana operations manager for Gerber Collision, a national car repair company.
Campbell sees the damage done in crashes every day at the Gerber Collision location in Harahan. His technicians only repair cars using new parts straight from the manufacturer, but he says in the industry, he has heard of mechanics using recycled airbags.
"You can only imagine what the ramifications would be if you're going down the highway and that airbag deployed," Campbell said.
The results could be deadly. According to Consumer Reports, there have been 11 deaths and 180 injuries from Takata airbags that improperly inflated and sent shrapnel into car occupants. The recall impacted 19 automakers and cars built from 2002 to 2015.
An estimated 750-thousand airbags are replaced every year. So what can you do to protect yourself? First, know where to look. Recycled airbags are most likely to be found in used cars that have previously been in a crash.
"I would tell every owner, please be careful. especially if you buy a used car, i would check car fax, see if there was an airbag deployment," Campbell advised.
If the airbag has deployed, a mechanic can trace the replacement airbag. Also, look for a serial or part number to check if it's on a recall list. And if you're getting an airbag replaced, insist on original replacement parts.
"Personal security and the security of your guest passengers and your family is far more important than a few dollars," Campbell said.
There aren't any known cases of recycled airbags causing injury in Louisiana. But Dorado's story is a good reminder to make sure you know what's in your car.
"This issue in Nevada underscores the importance of checking the vehicle's history and finding out if the airbags ever deployed in an accident and what parts were used to repair that vehicle," said Basso.
Industry experts also warn that heat and humidity here in southeast Louisiana can also have an adverse effect on recycled airbags. The good news is, most insurance companies do insist that new airbags are used when a car is repaired.
Carfax lets drivers check if their vehicle has had a deployed airbag for free at www.carfax.com/airbag.
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