Safety regulators are urging drivers to get their older Dodge and Chrysler vehicles checked after another driver death attributed to an exploding Takata air bag inflator.
Stellantis and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reiterated warnings to owners of 274,000 older Dodge and Chrysler vehicles to stop driving them until faulty inflators are replaced.
Stellantis announced two deaths in November caused by the air bags and said it suspected the inflators caused another. The company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler confirmed the third death early Monday.
Dodge and Chrysler models affected
Vehicles subject to the recall include Dodge Magnum wagons, Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars and Chrysler 300 sedans from the 2005 through 2010 model years. Last month the company issued a “Do Not Drive” warning on these vehicles.
Takata used ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate air bags in a crash. But the chemical can become more volatile over time when exposed to moisture in the air and repeated high temperatures. The explosion can rupture a metal canister and hurl shrapnel into the passenger compartment.
All three deaths this year were in warm-weather U.S. states and happened since April, Stellantis said.
Since 2009, the exploding air bags have killed at least 33 people worldwide, including 24 in the United States. Most of the deaths and about 400 injuries have happened in the U.S., but they also have occurred in Australia and Malaysia.
The Stellantis vehicles under the “Do Not Drive” warning were all recalled in 2015, and free repairs have been available since then. Dealers have the parts, do not charge for the service and Stellantis will provide transportation to get the vehicles to and from a dealership, the company said.
NHTSA said the latest person killed was driving a 2010 Chrysler 300.
“This holiday season, don’t let yourself or someone you love be at risk of dying or being seriously injured because of a defective, recalled Takata air bag. These repairs are absolutely free and could save your life,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson said in a statement.
“Time is a critical element here because the risk increases with each day these air bag inflators go unreplaced,” said Tom McCarthy, global head of safety and regulatory compliance at Stellantis.
In a statement, Stellantis said the vehicle’s owner asked the company about the air bag recall in 2018, but then declined to schedule service. The company said it sent 114 urgent notices to the owner for the past seven years.
The owner loaned the vehicle to a family member who was killed in a July crash when the inflator blew apart, Stellantis said. The company, which said it extends its deepest sympathies to the family, wouldn’t say where the crash occurred.
Death of Navy serviceman
When Florida Highway Patrol troopers arrived at a crash scene in Pensacola this summer, they found 23-year-old Hayden Jones Jr. dead at the wheel of a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup, with neck wounds that initially looked like a possible shooting, the Associated Press reported in September.
A trooper later messaged the NHTSA that injuries were from the deployment of an air bag in the vehicle in the accident, which occurred in July.
Though the NHTSA is investigating and hasn’t made a final determination yet, the family of Jones, a Navy officer, said there’s ample evidence the death was caused by an exploding Takata air bag. It would come six years after the start of a recall of that vehicle model.
The NHTSA recall notices for the 2006 Ford Ranger underline the urgency, saying owners shouldn’t drive these vehicles “unless you are going straight to a dealer to have them repaired.”
Ford said at the time that it notified the vehicle owner of the recall — even going to the owner’s home to try to schedule repairs — but the Jones family said it never received any recall notice from the manufacturer and has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, according to the AP.
The vehicle was originally purchased by Jones’ father, Hayden Jones Sr., according to the suit filed in September against Ford, the dealership and the owner and driver of the other vehicle involved in the crash, the Columbian reported.
Recall system is weak
Cases like this, in which needed repairs never happen, show the system is broken, William Wallace, safety advocate for Consumer Reports, told the AP. He said the recall system is weak in part because it relies heavily on owners keeping up to date with recall notices.
Earlier this month NHTSA said the driver of a 2002 Honda Accord was killed when the driver’s air bag inflator ruptured and hurled shrapnel. Honda said the crash occurred on February 22 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Potential for the dangerous malfunction led to the, with at least 67 million Takata inflators recalled. The U.S. government says that millions of vehicles have not been repaired. About 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide. The exploding air bags sent Takata Corp. of Japan into bankruptcy.
Consumers can search to see if their vehicle is subject to this, or any other, recall by entering their VIN number at nhtsa.gov/recalls.
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