Readers who used to spend weekend mornings watching Warner Brothers cartoons may remember classic scenes of characters frantically trying to plug holes in dams. As each hole was plugged with a finger, gum, or anything else that might be nearby, two or three new holes would spring in its place.
Eventually the dam would crack and the character could only turn, look at the viewer, sadly blink a few times, and then wait as the deluge of water washed the dam, the character, and anything else away that happened to be in its path.
It’s not hard to imagine that being the mood at Takata these days.
Takata airbags have been under scrutiny for quite some time. This blog first covered a Takata recall in August of last year when three million units, found primarily in Honda vehicles, were deemed to be unsafe and required replacement.
The controversy surrounding the manufacturer had been building for well over a decade prior to that recall having actually been issued. Customers had been contacting the NHTSA since at least 2000, warning of exploding airbags and asking the regulatory agency to intervene.
Since that initial recall, the number of recalled vehicles had continued to grow until it seemingly plateaued at around 17 million cars and trucks.
This month, however, the dam may have actually burst. A decade of denials, at least six deaths, and injuries numbering into the triple digits all came tumbling down as the company finally admitted that their airbags were, indeed, faulty and they could, indeed, explode in the passenger cabin of vehicles, sending shrapnel into the faces and bodies of unsuspecting passengers.
The result is the largest product recall in consumer history, as 34 million vehicles are subject to a global recall. To put this into perspective, that amounts to approximately one in seven cars you see on an American roadway.
As one may imagine, the net effect of a recall of this scale is difficult to predict. Nearly every major auto manufacturer is affected as is nearly every class of vehicle. Safercar.gov, a website that lets visitors search for active recalls on their vehicle based on their VIN, acknowledges that it could be days or weeks until every recalled vehicle even makes it onto the site.
But, once a vehicle has been discovered as falling under this recall, what do you do when you have to replace 34 million units around the world? Production times alone could take years when working at this scale. And, in a vehicle-dependent society such as ours and many others around the world, drivers are left to drive their vehicles and simply hope that their airbag never deploys and, if it does, that it’s not one of the ones that might kill them.
As the number of recalls continues to grow, both in terms of unsafe products as well as unsafe food and drugs, consumers must exercise more and more vigilance to keep track of the actual safety of the things they choose to buy and ingest.
The fallout from the Takata recall will take years to sort through. In the meantime, you have to wonder what recall is on the horizon that will de-throne this as the largest automotive recall we’ve ever experienced.