By Tom Krisher | The Associated Press
Stellantis and the US government are warning owners of 276,000 older vehicles to stop using Takata airbags in three other vehicles, killing the drivers.
The company, formerly Fiat Chrysler, is telling people to stop driving Dodge Magnum wagons, Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars, and Chrysler 300 sedans from the 2005 through 2010 model years.
Stellaantis says it confirmed that the driver’s airbag inflators blew apart in two cases, killing two drivers of the 2010 Dodge Chargers. The company suspects an inflationary rupture in another case that also killed a driver of an unspecified 2010 Dodge. All three deaths were in warm-weather U.S. states and occurred within the past seven months, the company said.
The fatalities bring the death toll from exploding Takata airbags to at least 32 worldwide, including 23 in the United States.
Takata used ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate airbags 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 could tear a metal canister and throw shrapnel into the passenger compartment.
Most of the deaths and about 400 injuries have occurred in warmer weather U.S. states.
Stellantis’ vehicles under the “Do Not Drive” warning were all recalled in 2015, and free repairs have been available since then. Stellaantis said it has made numerous attempts to reach owners, but repairs have not been made. The recalls affect vehicles in which the airbag inflators have not been replaced as part of the recall.
“Unrepaired, recalled Takata airbags are becoming increasingly dangerous as the risk of an explosion increases as vehicles age,” Ann Carlson, acting administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a statement. “Every day that goes by that a recalled airbag is not replaced puts you and your family at greater risk of injury or death.”
On Thursday, NHTSA urged all owners to verify that their vehicles recall an unrepaired Takata airbag. Drivers can go to https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if they have any pending recalls.
The agency said even minor crashes can cause airbags to inflate with the possibility of explosions that could kill or hurt people.
In its statement, NHTSA said it is aware of other suspected Takata inflator ruptures in vehicles made by other automakers. The agency says it is working with manufacturers to confirm the breaks, but would not provide further details.
Stellantis said all of its customers who are unsure if their vehicles have been recalled can call (833) 585-0144. Owners can call the hotline to arrange for their car to be towed to a dealer and for alternative transportation, the company said.
The repair typically takes less than an hour, the company said.
The company said it has made 210 million attempts to reach owners with recalled Takata airbag inflators, including letters, courier deliveries, emails, text messages, phone calls and home visits. The company has recalled nearly 2 million vehicles with Takata inflators.
In the three recent cases where people were killed, Stellantis said it made 153 attempts to reach owners.
The company “expresses its condolences to the families and friends of those affected by these incidents,” the Stellantis statement said.
The potential for the dangerous malfunction led to the largest series of vehicle recalls in US history, with at least 67 million Takata inflators being recalled. The US government says millions have not been repaired. Worldwide, approximately 100 million inflators have been recalled. The exploding airbags caused Takata Corp. from Japan went bankrupt.
Most deaths occurred in the US, but also in Australia and Malaysia.
The first death caused by a Takata inflator occurred in Oklahoma in 2009.