Chrysler & Ford Expand Takata Airbag Recall, NHTSA Grumbles

December 4, 2014

In the past 24 hours, Chrysler and Ford have expanded existing recalls of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags -- airbags that, under certain conditions, can explode and kill the people they were meant to protect. 

Will these expanded recalls make Americans safer? Will they alleviate confusion and allay concerns? Will they appease the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency tasked with regulating the whole process?

We can't answer the first two questions with any certainty. However, Auto News reports that NHTSA is unhappy with Chrysler's recall -- even though the agency seems unwilling to take meaningful action to enforce its demands.

BACKSTORY

The Takata airbag recall has been a disaster. There's no other word for it.

The fiasco began with a series of recalls to replace faulty passenger-side airbags. More recently, there have been calls to fix driver-side airbags. And in the U.S., the entire process has been further complicated by a regional system of recalls that's left many Americans confused, angry, and worried for their safety. 

We thought that things couldn't get any worse, but this week, they did just that.

  • Takata refused to comply with NHTSA's demand that the parts-maker declare its driver-side airbags faulty, regardless of humidity conditions. 
  • Automakers dug in their heels, refusing to launch nationwide recalls of Takata airbags.
  • Like Nero, NHTSA continued fiddling while chaos spread, stopping every so often to make vague threats of fines, but refusing to order nationwide recalls for some of Takata's fatally flawed airbags.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Here's what's happened over the past day:

Chrysler has expanded its recall to replace passenger-side airbags. In a press release, the automaker says that it will now cover Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500 pickups from the 2003 model-year that were "sold or ever registered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands".

(The 2003 Ram 1500 was already included in the airbag recall, but the scope had been limited to Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The 2003-model 2500 and 3500 are entirely new additions.)

The expansion affects some 149,150 vehicle owners in the U.S., who should receive notification of the recall by mail around January 19, 2015. Those who have questions in the meantime are encouraged to contact Ram customer service at 800-853-1403.

Ford has expanded its recall to replace passenger-side airbags. The recall expansion affects:

    • 2004-2005 Ford Ranger pickups built at Ford's Edison Assembly Plant between August 12, 2003 and March 1, 2004
    • 2004-2005 Ford Ranger pickups built at Ford's Twin Cities Assembly Plant between May 21, 2003 and May 4, 2005
    • 2005-2006 Ford GT models built at Ford's Wixom Assembly Plant between February 11, 2005 and January 30, 2006

Those models were already included in Ford's airbag recall, but as with Chrysler, the initial scope of the recall was limited to Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to Ford, the expansion "adds certain zip codes with high absolute humidity conditions in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa, per NHTSA’s request". 

The expansion adds about 13,000 vehicles to Ford's U.S. recall roster. That brings the total number of recalled Ford vehicles to 98,000, 38,500 of which are registered in the U.S.

NHTSA'S RESPONSE

NHTSA hasn't issued any statements on Ford's recall expansion, but the agency has officially criticized Chrysler's enlarged recall as "insufficient".

NHTSA's problem stems from the fact that Chrysler used a number of different airbag systems from Takata in the early part of this century, but the only one included in the company's expanded recall is the one used on the Ram. NHTSA had wanted Chrysler to include the 2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen, 2005-2008 Chrysler 300, 2005-2008 Dodge Dakota, and 2004-2008 Dodge Durango, too. (Some of those vehicles have already been recalled, but only within a very limited geographic area. Others would be new to Chrysler's recall list.)

NHTSA hasn't said what sort of penalty, if any, Chrysler might face for refusing its request.  

OUR TAKE

As we suggested yesterday, if you're fortunate enough to have received a recall notice related to Takata's flawed airbags, we encourage you to have your vehicle repaired immediately. If not, watch this space: we have an unpleasant feeling that the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better.

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