Drivers of seven Honda and Acura models made between 2001 and 2003 face an extraordinary risk — up to 50 percent in humidity-soaked Florida — that their airbag inflators will explode when deployed and potentially kill or maim them, officials warn.
The sheer size of history’s largest recall can have a numbing effect, but regulators and company representatives hope this urgent message gets through: Stop driving these cars immediately.
About 305,000 vehicles in this top-priority class, or more than one in four, remain unrepaired, Honda officials said this week.
“While we’re making progress nationwide, due to the high heat and humidity in your area, it’s critically important that any of your South Florida readers who own an affected vehicle pursue repair as soon as possible,” Honda spokesman Chris Martin said.
The vehicles in this high-urgency class include the 2001 and 2002 Honda Civic, 2001 and 2002 Honda Accord, 2002 and 2003 Acura TL, 2002 Honda CR-V, 2002 Honda Odyssey, 2003 Acura CL and 2003 Honda Pilot.
This “alpha” group of vehicles accounts for 80 percent of U.S. deaths attributed to Takata airbag ruptures. In many cases, investigators found, people bought the vehicles used and never realized they were under recall and never fixed.
Honda will pay to have the vehicles towed if necessary, officials said.
Laboratory testing has made it clear to federal officials this summer just how serious this risk really is.
“With as high as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous air bag inflator rupture in a crash, these vehicles are unsafe and need to be repaired immediately,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “Folks should not drive these vehicles unless they are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired immediately, free of charge.”
Ruptures are “far more likely” in vehicles that have “spent significant periods of time in areas of high absolute humidity — particularly Florida, Texas, other parts of the Gulf Coast, and Southern California,” federal officials said. Testing shows rupture rates as high as 50 percent in a laboratory, they said.
A mix of “time, environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures” contributes to “the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators,” a statement from regulators said. “Such degradation can cause the propellant to burn too quickly, rupturing the inflator module and sending shrapnel through the air bag and into the vehicle occupants.”
Eight of the 10 confirmed U.S. deaths due to Takata airbag ruptures came from this group of vehicles, officials noted. They also account for many of the more than 100 people have been injured.
In March, for example, a Texas teenager died in a low-speed crash. Fragments from the exploding airbag inflator in her 2002 Honda Civic struck her neck and killed her.
The car was bought used and family members said they were not aware it was under recall before the crash, reports showed.
Honda officials said they have tried to reach affected owners by millions of first-class registered letters, postcards, emails, texts and other means.
The repairs have taken a higher priority over other groups of recalled vehicles.
In waves of recalls that will affect close to 70 million airbags in cars from various manufacturers by 2019, not all drivers are hearing parts are readily available.
More than 10 million airbags have been repaired overall, according to a federal website.
The recall notices can seem a little confusing. For example, a Palm Beach County driver who had a driver-side airbag fixed in a 2009 Honda Fit this spring got a recall notice about the passenger airbag about a month later. Parts for the second airbag were not immediately available, the notice said.
Honda, which has the most cars affected, took the lead among automakers in agreeing for to pay for replacement rental cars if parts were not immediately available for driver-side bags. For the passenger-side bag, a Honda spokesman said a rental car would be available for the day of repair.
This much is clear: The 2001 to 2003 Honda and Acura models lead the priority list, and South Florida sits squarely among the places with highest risk.
“Drivers should visit SaferCar.gov or contact their local dealer to check whether their vehicle is affected,” said National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind. “If it is, they should have the vehicle repaired immediately for free at an authorized dealer.”
The most urgent airbag risk
Drivers in humid South Florida should have airbags in these vehicles repaired “immediately,” federal officials say.
2001-2002 Honda Civic
2001-2002 Honda Accord
2002-2003 Acura TL
2002 Honda CR-V
2002 Honda Odyssey
2003 Acura CL
2003 Honda Pilot
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