The Takata airbag recall is the largest recall in U.S. auto history, with 19 different automakers recalling more than 30 million cars.
But owners of some popular General Motors pickups and SUVs are wondering why they can't get their airbags replaced. Among them is one man who said he's getting nervous and angry.
Steve Helton bought a 2008 Chevrolet Suburban for family road trips. But now, he said: "I won't drive my family in this, no I won't."
That's because Helton's Chevy is one of 3 million GM full-size SUVs and pickups on the recall list for possibly dangerous Takata airbags. They include 2007-2011 models of the:
- Chevy Silverado
- Chevy Tahoe
- Chevy Suburban
- GMC Yukon
- GMC Sierra
- Cadillac Escalade
But it's been three years since he received his first letter from GM, informing him that his vehicle had Takata airbags that fell under the massive recall.
"In each of the three years, I have received a recall notice for airbags that could violently explode and send shrapnel into drivers or passengers," he said. (GM disputes that, however, as explained below.)
But dealers don't have replacements.
"I have yet to receive a notice that any dealer now has the parts," he said.
Is GM deliberately foot-dragging?
Helton started wondering if perhaps GM doesn't really want to recall these airbags because of the tens of millions of dollars it would cost the company.
It turns out he may have been on to something, according to the consumer group The Center for Auto Safety.
Executive Director Jason Levine told us via a Skype interview: "In some ways, it's accurate to say that GM is intentionally not recalling these vehicles."
Levine explained that GM is now petitioning the NHTSA to exempt the automaker from any further airbag recalls.
Why? According to Levine: "GM claims the Takata airbag inflators they have in their bags are different. And they are not going to explode. They are not the ticking time bombs in everyone else's vehicle."
GM confirms that it believes the airbags in its full-size SUVs are not a risk. Spokesman Tom Wilkinson said in a statement: "The inflators in these trucks, which have not ruptured in the field or in ballistic testing, will continue to operate safely for decades, even in the highest temperature and humidity regions."
GM says in its petition that its Takata airbags were made to GM specifications, which include stronger metal housings and that none of its airbags have sent dangerous shrapnel flying into passengers.
But The Center for Auto Safety is asking the NHTSA to deny GM any waiver of the recall.
"Our position is that GM has not come anywhere close to demonstrating that their airbag inflators are so distinctly different from the others millions that have been recalled, that are going off and tragically killing people," Levine said.
As for Steve Helton, he got so frustrated he asked his dealer if they could remove his Suburban's airbags, but says, "they won't take it out, won't disable it, they are not allowed."
So for now, he just keeps driving, hoping his SUV is safe.
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