Latest Airbag Advice Confuses Drivers - NBC Southern California
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Latest Airbag Advice Confuses Drivers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Despite the expanding recall, hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for replacements and some claim they're being advised to drive their cars whether they’re fixed or not. Randy Mac reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (Published Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016)

    Exploding airbags made by manufacturer Takata are now linked to at least 10 deaths and as many as 100 injuries.

    But despite the massive, and expanding, recall, hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for replacements and some claim they're being advised to drive their cars whether they're fixed or not.

    These drivers say they are coping with confusion and fear over what appears to be some very mixed messages coming from carmakers, dealerships and the government agency that oversees the auto industry.

    Santa Paula resident David Solis said the mess has him too afraid to get behind the wheel of his dream car, a 2012 limited edition two-seater Ford Mustang that is very much his baby.

    "I told myself as a little child one day 'I will have that car,'" he remembered. "It's a fantastic car to drive and it's the car that I've wanted all my life."

    Only thing is, he hasn't been driving it for the last six months.

    "Since I received the recall notice," he said.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with Ford Motor Company, issued the recall, citing problems with Takata's air bag inflators, writing: "An inflator rupture could result in metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death."

    Solis has been trying to get Ford to replace his equipment for nearly 10 months.

    "First they were telling me that the parts would be available, September, November, December. Each of those months I called, there were no parts available."

    Fearful that his epilepsy puts him at greater risk of a crash, Solis asked Ford to buy back his Mustang or suspend payments until it was fixed.

    "They will not stop payments," he said.

    Solis wrote to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and received a letter back, authorizing him to have an airbag on-off switch installed on his Mustang.

    This is an option to disable the airbag for people who have been waiting for the replacement parts.

    One month later, the head of the agency, Administrator Mark Rosekind, said in a public speech "You should never disable a driver-side airbag."

    Solis' confusion escalated more when he took the authorization to install the on-off switch to his Ford dealer, and it refused to touch safety equipment.

    "It's terrible. I would be scared to drive that car too," said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of advocacy group the Center for Auto Safety.

    Ditlow has heard from other Ford owners who are just as frustrated and confused over the guidance they're getting.

    "What NHTSA should do is declare that Ford has failed its obligation and buy them all back," Ditlow said.

    A NHTSA spokesman confirmed that it is granting on-off switch installation in certain cases, saying "some individuals may have certain medical conditions where the risks of a deploying an airbag exceed the risk of impacting the steering wheel in the absence of an airbag."

    The I-Team asked a Ford spokeswoman if dealers are required to comply with a NHTSA authorization to install an airbag on/off switch.

    A Ford spokeswoman replied, "Dealers can decide whether they are willing to install an on-off switch for a customer who has received an authorization from NHTSA."

    A NHTSA spokesperson also replied to the I-Team question with this advice:

    "If the consumer has the on/off switch authorization letter from NHTSA he could go to another Ford dealer or contact Ford Company directly (Services to the Consumer Department), email or fax them a copy of the letter and have them assist him with getting a local dealer do [the] install."

    Ford told us it's working with suppliers to replace airbag inflators as quickly as possible, but quoted NHTSA as saying in the meantime, owners "should continue to drive their vehicles."

    "I am homebound every single day," Solis said.

    Solis refuses to drive his car, instead choosing to wait while considering legal action and paying for a car he loves and is afraid to drive.

    "By the time the year comes around, you're talking almost $9,000 I'm going to pay on this car to never drive it," he said.

    To find out more about the recall, you can visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Center for Auto Safety.

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