Japan's Takata corporation said it is stepping up production of airbags to replace the potentially deadly ones in millions of American cars. But with 33 million Americans set to hit the highway for the Memorial Day weekend, many drivers are wondering what they should do. A record of nearly 34 million vehicles are being recalled for defective airbags blamed for five deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Consumers have now been warned that Takata airbags are defective and may deploy with excessive force, rupturing the metal inflator, sending shrapnel flying through the vehicle.
But today car owners are confused because it's still not known exactly which vehicles are being recalled.
Eleven car manufacturers are involved and the companies told us they are still waiting for details from Takata in order to determine the models of their cars, which may have the defective airbags.
"This is certainly approaching the worst recall situation ever," said Sean Kane, president of the consulting company Safety Research and Strategies. "As a consumer, you're between a rock and a hard place. You've got a no safety defect that if it manifests itself can cause a very severe injury and yet you can't really do anything about it short of parking your car and waiting for the part's availability."
Takata has said that new airbags will eventually be available, but that wait could be long because there's a shortage of replacement bags and it may take years to replace all the defective units.
So who takes priority?
People living in humid states first, because the company believes the problem is caused by moisture leaking into the sealed canister.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has told car owners to regularly check the Safercar.gov website for updates, but since the announcement yesterday, no new information is available.
Many are wondering whether they should drive their car or disable the airbags.
"It's really important to keep perspective," said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. "This is a small occurrence, tens of thousands of these vehicles have saved lives."
Takata says it's tested nearly 31,000 airbags and 265 have ruptured. None of the auto safety experts we spoke with recommend disabling airbags. They are more likely to save your life than take it.