Nationwide concerns about faulty air bags led to a busy week in Charlotte for some car dealerships as they fielded calls from customers worried about their safety.
More drivers have become concerned they might own defective air bags after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday urged vehicle owners to act immediately on recalls dating as far back as 18 months ago. Those recalls affect nearly a dozen automakers and millions of vehicles, regulators said.
In the Charlotte area, some vehicle owners say they have looked into getting repairs but have been told parts are not immediately available. In some cases, they said, they have been told it might take a week or longer for parts to arrive.
Some dealerships say they will not bill customers for the repairs. Dealerships also say the work can typically be done the same day, so they aren’t expecting to provide many customers with free loaner cars while repairs are being made.
For dealerships, the past week has brought an increase in inquiries from customers with questions about the recalls. Dealerships said they check the vehicle identification numbers to find out whether any recalls apply to a customer’s vehicle.
“This week has definitely picked up in the number of calls and people who have come by to have their vehicles inspected,” said Spencer Lueders, director of brand development for East Charlotte Nissan on Independence Boulevard.
Andrea Young said she has cut back on driving her 2004 Honda Accord until she can get the air bags fixed on the driver and passenger sides. Until then, the 30-year-old graphic designer and South End resident is getting rides from her sister.
“I’m actually a little afraid to drive my car,” she said. “It is a pretty big inconvenience.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the recall notices affect 7.8 million vehicles equipped with air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp. The air bags’ inflators can rupture and eject metal fragments in a crash at drivers and passengers.
The air bag issue is contributing to increasing scrutiny of not just automakers but also regulators.
A senior Obama administration official said Friday that transportation leaders are reviewing the “safety culture” of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Associated Press reported.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that oversees auto recalls, has been criticized by lawmakers and safety advocates for not acting aggressively enough regarding millions of vehicles with defective air bags or faulty ignition switches in General Motors vehicles, the AP reported.
The safety agency is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is headed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte.
In Charlotte, worries about the air bag recalls have sent some residents scrambling to find out whether they are affected.
Young, the South End resident, said she first learned of air bag recalls this week. She researched her Accord on her computer and learned it was part of a recall.
Scared to drive her car after hearing about deaths linked to the faulty airbags, Young looked into getting it repaired. She said Hendrick Honda on South Boulevard told her it would take a week for parts to come in.
Hendrick Honda, which Young said has been nice to her, has scheduled an appointment to get her car repaired next week.
Carolyn Ridge, customer relations representative for Hendrick Honda, said the dealership saw an increase in calls this past week over the recall issue. The dealership is “working actively with Honda and our customers to resolve any concerns as quickly and efficiently as possible,” she said.
North Charlotte resident Sevone Rhynes said BMW alerted him in September that the passenger-side airbag in his 2001 BMW 330i had a faulty inflator that could rupture and throw metal fragments.
“It is curious that I’m driving about a 14-year-old car now, and all of a sudden I have this problem that has been there since the car was actually made,” he said. “So this car’s been defective from the time it’s been built. That is a little bit worrisome.”
Rhynes, who bought the car in 2007, said he’s waiting to hear back from BMW on when parts will be available so he can get it repaired.
In the meantime, he plans to drive more carefully. But he’s wondering whether the airbag on the driver’s side, which he said has not been recalled, is faulty.
“That is a question. But, there again, we’re looking at corporations, and they’re only going to fix what they know is broken.”
Influx of calls
Dealerships in the Charlotte area attributed the higher call volume to news coverage this week of the air bag issue.
“This week has prompted more people to be paying attention,” Lueders, of East Charlotte Nissan, said.
Lueders said it can take one to two hours to repair an air bag, which means there’s no big expectation customers will need the dealership’s loaner cars.
He said Friday that the dealership has plenty of the necessary parts to make air bag repairs.
Lueders said the repairs cost a “couple hundred” dollars, but customers are not billed. “We’ll be reimbursed from Nissan.”
Ridge, of Hendrick Honda, also said customers won’t have to worry about being asked to pay for repairs of recalled airbags.
“When it’s a safety issue, it’s covered under warranty,” she said.