Owners told not to drive old Hondas until air bags are replaced

Federal regulators say dealers have enough air bags for high-risk vehicles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. government is telling owners of 313,000 older Hondas and Acuras to stop driving them and get them repaired after new tests found that their Takata air bag inflators are extremely dangerous.

"These vehicles are unsafe and need to be repaired immediately," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "Folks should not drive these vehicles unless they are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it has data showing that chances are as high as 50 percent that the inflators can explode in a crash, injuring people by sending metal shrapnel into the passenger compartments.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing metal fragments. At least 11 people have died and more than 100 have been injured worldwide from the problem. Seventeen car and truck makers are recalling 69 million inflators in what has become the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

The older the inflators are, and the more time they spend in heat and humidity, the more likely they are to malfunction.

"You could be going down the road and the thing could just deploy, especially in the state of Florida with the humidity in the air. As these things age they get corrosion," Aaron Nelson, of Aaron's Car Care, said.

NHTSA said that Honda has replacement air bags from other manufacturers that are needed for this high risk recall. Nelson recommends dealing with a Honda or Accura dealership, even if it means waiting.

"Some people say, 'Oh, the heck with it. I won't even take it to the dealer. I'll call up and get someone to get me one offline or whatever and do it,'" The problem being, if you do that, you don't know if you're replacing that same component with another affected component," Nelson said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's urgent advisory covers vehicles that are up to 16 years old, including 2001 and 2002 Honda Civics and Accords, the 2002 and 2003 Acura TL, the 2002 Honda Odyssey and CR-V and the 2003 Acura CL and Honda Pilot. The vehicles are among the oldest involved in the Takata recalls. They were recalled from 2008 to 2011, and about 70 percent of them already have been repaired, the agency said.

The company said it has reached out to the owners multiple times, but many vehicles remain unrepaired, even in high-humidity areas mainly along the Gulf Coast that are at the highest risk.

Takata uses ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion that inflates air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity and can blow apart a metal canister, spewing hot shrapnel.

Eight of the 10 U.S. deaths caused by Takata inflators occurred in the older Honda and Acura vehicles, the government said. It urged people to go to safercar.gov and enter their vehicle identification number to see if their car or truck is being recalled.

"These vehicles are death traps, and Takata and Honda have understated the risks for far too long," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, a frequent critic of  how the government and the auto industry have responded to the problem. "Merely telling people to come to dealers is not enough. They need to go out and find these vehicles and get them off the road."

Honda says it has used social media, telephone calls, newspaper ads, mail, text and even private investigators to contact owners. The company will more than double the size of its customer service staff to make more calls to owners, Honda said.

Richard Skies is driving his Acura again after waiting months to get its defective Takata air bags replaced.

Both his and his wife's cars were recalled in April. Both cars stayed in their garage for almost three month while the couple drove rental cars.

"At first (when) we received the letter we didn't think to much of it. Then my wife heard from a co-worker who was affected by the recall. She was telling her how serious it was," Sikes said.

Takata of Japan agreed in May to expand the recalls. They are being phased in due to a lack of available replacement parts. Models from 2011 or older in high heat and humidity areas will get first priority, followed by 2008 and older models in southern tier states, then 2004 and older models in the rest of the country. Research has shown that it takes at least six years for the ammonium nitrate to deteriorate.

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