By Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4) – Millions of people are driving cars that could kill them and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Earlier this month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expanded the recall of faulty Takata airbags to nearly 70 million vehicles. It’s now the largest recall in American automotive history. Ten people have been killed by the airbags in the U.S. and 13 have died overseas.
But many are still driving their cars with no idea when their airbags can be replaced. Takata has been overwhelmed by the size of the recall and at service centers around the country the wait for replacements has gone from weeks to months.
“I don’t want to drive around putting my life at risk, but you know, what’s your choice?” said Lois Blake.
In February, Blake saw news reports of faulty airbag recalls expanding in Honda vehicles. She entered her VIN online and found her 2011 CRV listed among the recalls weeks before she was notified by Honda. Ralph Schomp Honda initially told Blake her car would be repaired in March. Now her repair is scheduled for some time in July.
“”I just said, ‘What else can I do?’ And he said, ‘You’ll just have to wait,'” said Blake.
The problem — Takata cannot keep up with the demand. Schomp Honda told CBS4 their service department only receives a few airbags at a time, and the wait list continues to get longer. It’s happening at dealerships around the country. NHTSA calls the situation desperate.
“I don’t think any time in history there’s been the same product by the same manufacturer sold to so many brands,” said Tim Jackson, Colorado Automotive Dealers Association President.
The defect is found in the airbag’s inflator. Federal investigators found the airbag would deploy and then the cylindrical inflator would shoot out at the driver like a missile. NHTSA also discovered faulty repairs where the airbag’s assembly would explode, sending deadly metal shrapnel at the driver.
Twenty-one different vehicle brands use Takata’s airbags. The recall affects more than 150 different models.
“I think it’s about as bad as it can get because it’s basically all of the Takata airbags,” said Jackson.
In November 2015, Takata admitted to federal investigators that the company had known about problems in their airbags for years. The company said it had also withheld information and misled investigators. Takata did not return repeated requests for comment.
“It appears to be like a house of cards for Takata,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be really hard for them to meet the demand.”
Jackson believes the recall opens the door for new companies to produce airbags. Even the vehicle makers have a stake in making the airbags themselves.
“I think you will see a more competitive marketplace because they’ll (car manufacturers) see it as a vacuum.”
Investigators say the airbags are most susceptible of failing are in cars exposed to prolonged high heat and humidity. Cars in Colorado are not seen as “high risk” under the recall. That’s still little comfort to driver like Lois Blake, who feels like she might as well be driving a bomb.\
“My husband said it was just a small percentage, so I drive it, but it worries me a lot.”
A spokesman for Honda’s American operations says instead of waiting for Takata parts the company is proceeding to make repairs to the defective airbags using alternative components. Honda says they are also offering rental cars to drivers whose vehicles have not been repaired.