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EKC PR client, Alexander Brangman, quoted in Forbes article regarding Takata airbags

Federal Car Safety Officials To Be Grilled About Delays In Fix To Exploding Takata Airbags

By Diana Hembree for

If you buy a vehicle from a used car dealer, you may get a great deal — or a timebomb.

That’s because many dealers are selling cars subject to a safety recall without fixing them, even though they advertise the cars have passed a rigorous inspection. According to consumer groups, this means you may get a vehicle with a hidden safety defect that could cause the brakes to fail or the car to catch on fire on the highway.

This problem will be highlighted Tuesday, when the U.S. Senate holds a hearing about defective recall cars that puts Trump administration car safety officials on the hot seat. Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be grilled on why it’s taking so long to supply replacements for defective Takata airbags, which can explode instead of inflating.

The airbags are part of the largest car safety recall in the country’s history, with NHTSA recalling more than 42 million vehicles — most of which were made between 2002 and 2015 — from 19 different automakers.  According to the agency’s investigation, the main problem was the airbag’s ammonium nitrate-based propellant, which was made without a chemical drying agent. This has caused airbag inflaters some to ignite, scattering metal shards “like a grenade exploding in your face,” according to used Toyota dealer Earl Stewart of Florida.

Some consumers heard about the issue for the first time several years ago, when a minor fender bender in Los Angeles traffic caused the Takata airbag in a rented Honda Civic to explode in 2014, spraying shrapnel and killing Jewel Brangman, 26.

Talented, accomplished and life-loving, Brangman had a masters degree in media arts and journalism and was embarking on a PhD at Stanford in family therapy. A model, gymnastics teacher and Reiki master, she happened to be the girlfriend of Suicide Squad actor Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son — something that attracted media attention to the tragedy. Brangman is one of more than 15 people killed by faulty Takata airbags.

“Dealers continue to sell cars with Takata airbags in high volume and suggest to consumers that they can get them repaired at their local dealership, which is often false, due to massive parts shortages,” said Rosemary Shahan, founder and president of Citizens for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS).

The hearing, slated for 2:30 p.m. EST, will be broadcast live by the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee.  If you’re not sure whether your car is subject to the recall, Consumer Reports has published a list of recalled vehicles with defective airbags.

Other recalls involve faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles and Ford vehicles marred by cracking fuel lines and steering wheels that can come off.  Yet some used auto dealers do not even tell consumers there is a problem. 

Update: Jewel Brangman’s father, Alexander Brangman, now a global consumer advocate for car safety, attended the hearing and filed a statement with the committee. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them,'”  Brangman noted, calling on the committee to “fix our flawed recall system,” seek justice for Takata victims and require automakers to provide loaner vehicles for all recalled autos.

Consumer win in California

Consumers did score a victory in a recent court decision in a California state court of appeals. In a case brought by Tammy Gutierrez of Bakersfield, Calif., against CarMax, one of the country’s largest used car dealers, the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled that Gutierrez had a valid complaint and that she could proceed with a suit alleging that CarMax acted illegally when it sold her a car with an unrepaired safety recall defect.

Attorney Robert Starr said he appreciated the court ruling in favor of his client, who bought a 2008 Hyundai Elantra from CarMax.

“I believe that used car buyers deserve the same protections from unsafe, defective recalled cars as new car buyers,” Starr told reporters.

The ruling hinges on two California laws designed to protect consumers and businesses, said Shahan of CARS, which, along with attorneys and other consumer groups, asked the court to modify an earlier ruling to reflect businesses’ “implied warranty” for merchandise.

“The implied warranty means that everything should work – if you buy a toaster, it should make toast. If you buy a car, you could have static on the radio, but it should be safe,” Shahan said. The court said car dealers have to disclose a recall, and that selling a defective car also violates the state’s Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits deceptive practices.”

“What the court did is very important,” Shahan continued. “It should put dealers on notice that customers lives are at stake. Tragically, there have been many consumers who have died in vehicles that were unsafe and subject to a safety recall. Cally Houck of Ojai, California, lost two daughters who were on their way to Santa Cruz in a rented PT Cruiser with a recall defect that caused the vehicle to leak steering fluid. It caught on fire and caused them to lose control of the steering, sending them straight into an 18- wheeler.”

Many states have laws governing implied warranty and unfair competition, which gives the consumer groups the hope that the ruling will set a precedent for other states.

For its part, CarMax does not plan to appeal the decision.

“CarMax has led the industry in recall transparency and shares vehicle specific recall information in-store and online,” CarMax told in a written statement from its public relations department. “The California Court of Appeal’s opinion supports the disclosure of open recalls when a dealer is aware of them, which is CarMax’s practice. The opinion is not a final decision in the case, and we will not be filing a notice of appeal.”

CarMax’s statement added that it was committed to transparency in used car sales:

“More details about CarMax’s commitment to recall transparency can be found here. Every vehicle on and on CarMax’s mobile apps includes a link to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall lookup website, with the VIN pre-populated, allowing customers to obtain open recall information on any CarMax used vehicle. Before any customer purchases a used vehicle, a CarMax associate and the customer review the recall information available on the NHTSA website. After this initial review, customers sign a form acknowledging receipt of the NHTSA recall information prior to signing sales documents.”

Consumer experts say they welcome transparency in car sales. The real issue, however, is that dealers should not be able to sell cars with open recall defects, according to Shahan.

“Car dealers suggest the recalls are easy to fix,” Shahan said. “But this often isn’t true, especially since the parts to fix them may not be available. Used cars that have been recalled for being unsafe and are not fixed should simply not be sold.”

Diana Hembree has covered business, health and science issues for Time Inc., and other media and is working on an M.S. in Sustainable Food Systems from Green Mountain College.


To read the original article on the Forbes website, click here.


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