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Exploding Takata airbag claims 19th victim

After 5-month investigation, Honda, NHTSA blame Takata for death

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(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

BATON ROUGE, La. – A 60-year-old Louisiana man has become the latest casualty of a faulty exploding Takata airbag inflator.

George Robertson “Rob” Sharp Jr. was killed after his 2004 Honda Civic was involved in a July 10 crash in Baton Rouge.

According to East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark, Sharp suffered an open fracture of his larynx after the driver’s side airbag inflator ruptured. Sharp survived the crash but died later in a hospital.

According to Honda American representative Chris Martin, Sharp’s death is the “18th confirmed worldwide in Honda vehicles” and the latest Takata airbag death involved a Ford pickup truck, bringing the total to 19.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family of the driver during this difficult time,” Honda American representative Marcos Frommer told News 6 in an emailed statement.

According to Honda, since 2014, Sharp’s Civic had been included in recalls calling for replacement of the Takata driver’s frontal airbag inflator.

“Honda attempted numerous times to reach previous owners of this vehicle,” Frommer said. “However, publicly available information indicates that the owner of the vehicle at the time of the crash had acquired the vehicle in April of 2017, and our records show that no recall notices were sent to that owner in the three months prior to the crash in July 2017.”

Frommer also told News 6 that during their investigation, Honda and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered the airbag in Sharp’s Civic was not the one that originally came with the car.

“While the vehicle involved in this crash was under recall and had never received the required recall repair, the ruptured Takata inflator found in the vehicle during the inspection was not the original inflator installed in this vehicle,” Frommer said. “The airbag module containing the ruptured inflator was originally installed in a 2002 Honda Civic and is believed to be a salvaged or used part that was installed in this 2004 Civic at an unknown point in its past.”

Frommer also confirmed to News 6 Sharp‘s death is the first confirmed fatality caused by a salvaged Takata airbag.

As News 6 exclusively reported over the summer, American Honda partnered with Rebuilders Automotive Supply to scour salvage yards across the country in search of defective Takata airbags that could end up being pulled out of wrecks, recycled, and then put back into roadworthy cars.

“We take these airbags and give them to the right people to get them off the streets so nobody uses them,” Tim McMillon told News 6 in August.

McMillon, owner of M&K Used Auto Parts in Orange City, said Honda and RAS give him about $50 apiece for each recycled airbag.

Honda and NHTSA are extremely concerned about older airbags with so-called “Alpha” inflators that are found in some 2001-2003 Honda and Acura vehicles. Those units have a higher risk of rupturing, not only because of their age, but also because of exposure to hot and humid conditions.

Louisiana and Florida are just two of more than a dozen geographical areas of concern that NHTSA said make Alpha airbags more susceptible to rupturing. NHTSA, along with Takata, estimate Alpha inflators in the High Absolute Humidity areas have “an alarming rupture rate of as high as 50 percent.” Other states, territories and commonwealths of immediate concern include Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Saipan. 

The fix for recalled Takata airbags is relatively simple: Technicians replace the internal faulty inflator with a replacement part using a more stable firing compound. Because the inflator is an internal component, the swap-out leaves the airbag intact.

“A vehicle owner will not notice any difference in the appearance of their airbag after the repair,” Martin said. “This repair is free. There is no cost to the owner.”

According to the NHTSA, there are about 70 million driver-side and passenger-side airbags that have been recalled. Those airbags aren’t just limited to Hondas. Nineteen different manufacturers have issued recalls spanning across 139 different models.

There are two steps you should take to see if you may have a car included in the Takata recall. First, to see a full list of cars affected by the Takata airbag recall, click here. If your car is on this list, it’s time to dig a little deeper. Get your VIN number and see if your specific car has an open recall. You can plug in your VIN number at this link or this one.

Want to look up recall notices on your smartphone? There’s an app for that. You can download it here for Android phones or here for iPhones.

If you have an open recall on your car, contact the dealership to see when you can bring the car in for a replacement airbag. American Honda said they have plenty of spare airbag inflators on hand.

Fiat-Chrysler America launched a recall campaign earlier this month in both Orlando and Tampa Bay in an attempt to get more recalled airbags fixed.

If you’re shopping for a used car and you want to be absolutely positive you have a safe airbag, there are some extra steps you can take. Select a vehicle history search tool to run a background check. Three of the biggest companies specializing in vehicle histories are AutoCheck, VinAudit, and the aforementioned Carfax. Prices, options and features vary for all three. You can read up and decide which one is best for you by clicking here.

 


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