Global Recall: Polk County Motorists Cope With Air Bag Repair Issues

LAKELAND | Kerri Harris still drives the car that her parents bought for her a decade ago.

The 30-year-old Mulberry resident said her 2005 Toyota Corolla has been largely dependable, which is why she was surprised to receive a recall letter from the car company.

'You think you have this safe car, and then you find out there's an issue,' she said.

Harris's Corolla is just one of about 7.8 million vehicles in the United States to be recalled because of defective air bag inflators made by the Tokyo-based Takata Corporation. The result is air bags that can rupture upon deployment and spray the vehicle's occupants with pieces of metal.

Toyota is one of 10 auto makers affected by the recall, along with BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Subaru.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a public awareness campaign, imploring owners of those vehicles to make immediate repair arrangements with their local dealerships.

'Responding to these recalls, whether old or new, is essential to personal safety and it will help aid our ongoing investigation into Takata air bags and what appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures,' said David Friedman, deputy administrator of the NHTSA. 'We are leaving no stone unturned in our aggressive pursuit to track down the full geographic scope of this issue.'

According to the NHTSA, the Takata air bag recalls related to this problem date back to April and May of 2013.

In June, seven automakers -- BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Toyota -- announced further recalls after the NHTSA opened an investigation following six reports of air bag inflator ruptures and three complaints of injuries caused by the Takata air bag. Each of those instances took place in Florida and Puerto Rico.

'We currently believe the high levels of absolute humidity in those states are important factors,' said Shigehisa Takada CEO of the Takata corporation, in a June statement.'As a result, our engineers are analyzing the impact that humidity may have on the potential for an inflator malfunction,'

According to a Nov. 5 USA Today story, two deaths -- reported by Honda years ago -- reportedly have been blamed on the Takata air bag defect, while two more recent deaths are suspected but yet to be confirmed.

The NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation website states that manufacturers can voluntarily initiate recalls, while others are compelled to do so because of NHTSA investigations or court orders.

Harris received her recall notice in late October. She had heard about the nationwide air bag recall through social media, but didn't realize her vehicle had been affected.

'I got the letter on a Monday, and dropped my car off that Friday afternoon,' said Harris, who made an appointment at Lakeland Toyota to have her car checked. 'They had it ready for me the next morning.'

To date, Toyota has recalled 877,000 of its potentially affected vehicles -- which is a distant second to the 5 million potentially affected Honda vehicles in the United States.

Although Harris' air bag replacement only took several hours, there is a question as to whether or not Takata will be able to manufacture enough replacement inflators to meet the high demand.

Service managers at the Lakeland Toyota and Winter Haven Honda car dealerships declined to comment.

According to a Nov. 3 article, a Honda spokesman said the current stock of replacement parts is enough to repair vehicles in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are the four areas prioritized by the NHTSA because of their high humidity levels. The NHTSA reported just six complaints in October from motorists who said dealers could not get replacement parts. There were no reported complaints in the three previous months.

The agency has given Toyota dealerships permission to disable the recalled air bags -- which the automaker says are only on the passenger side of its cars -- if no replacement parts are available. If a passenger-side air bag is disabled, a sticker will be placed on the dashboard advising people not to ride in the front seat.

Harris is happy she was able to get her air bag replaced right away and didn't have to face the prospect of riding in her car without one.

'I wouldn't have felt comfortable at all driving around without the air bag,' Harris said. 'Me and my husband use that car all the time, and I'm the one that usually sits in the passenger seat.'

[ John Ceballos can be reached at or 863-802-7515. ]


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