Huge Takata airbag recall leaving consumers, auto dealers uncertain

WASHINGTON (KTVU-AP) -- As members of Congress grilled officials with the airbag manufacturer Takata at a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, many consumers were finding it difficult to determine if their vehicles were affected by the airbag massive recall.

It's been two weeks since Takata agreed on May 19th to expand it's recall to nearly 34 million air bags, and consumers are facing confusion because there still is not a complete list of which vehicles contain the faulty air bags.

What's more, it's still unclear whether the component ammonium nitrate caused the air bags to explode, causing controversy over whether Takata's replacement kits with the same material are sufficiently safe and whether people who have received a repair might need to get a second replacement part.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's chief Mark Rosekind said Tuesday, "a definitive root cause has not been identified."

Faulty air bags are being blamed for six deaths and more than 100 injuries.

"Every morning I feel like I am playing headline roulette, waiting for another rupture, another injury, another death," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas at the House subcommittee hearing.

For consumers the lack of information means many drivers are unaware of the possible dangers. The Takata recall is being called the largest in automotive history, affecting some eleven auto manufacturers.

Matthew Rapa of Walnut Creek says he bought his new Toyota Tundra because of the side curtain airbags to protect his two children.

"I bought it for the airbags because I thought it was safe for these little guys," Rapa said. However, like many drivers, he still doesn't know if his vehicle is affected.

"I don't think it's fair. It's not fair to the consumer," Rapa said about the delays.

"One out of every seven vehicles on the road has an airbag made by Takata," said Harley Shaiken, a U.C. Berkeley professor who studies labor and the auto industry.

Shaiken says it's a massive safety concern.

"People will continue driving with little question but I think there is an urgency to speed up to whatever extent possible a recall of this nature," Shaiken told KTVU.

NHTSA has set up a website where consumers can enter their VIN or vehicle identification number and find out whether their vehicle is part of the Takata recall. The NHTSA chief says people should check the website regularly, because the manufacturers will be adding to the list weekly.

"It's going to take some time and that could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the auto makers to put together an accurate list," said Mark Rosekind, the Administrator of the National Highway Safety Administration. 

He says it could be Fall 2015 before the NTHSA has a timeline for completion of the repairs.

Many Bay Area dealers say they've been getting calls from consumers every day about repairs. Some, however, still have not received a list of recalled vehicles from their manufacturer.

At the Walnut Creek Ford dealer, Daniel Kossut, the sales manager says they are awaiting orders from Ford about what vehicles need repairs and how many repair kits will be shipped.

"In a perfect world we get them all at once but as fast as they come in we get them into our customers vehicles," said Kossut, who added that manufacturers also issue stop sales orders for any recalled vehicles so they won't be driven until repairs are made.

Takata officials said they plan to increase production of replacement parts from 750,000 in May to one million per month in September. Still, with as many as 34 million vehicles impacted, that could mean months or even years before supply meets demand.

NHTSA officials say if people face any delays in notification or repair, they should not disable their airbags

"If there's any delay, we are encouraging people ask their dealer or manufacturer for a loaner or rental car so they don't have to worry about this issue." Rosekind said.

Rosekind urged Congress to approve additional funding for his agency by raising the maximum fines from $35 million to $300 million for automakers and suppliers who fail to cooperate with an investigation. He is also seeking greater authority for the NHTSA to order recalls deemed an imminent hazard.

"Fixing this problem is a monumental task. Yet the agency must manage this enormous and necessary task with its existing people, technology and authorities," he said.