I-Team: Historic Takata Air Bag Recall Leaves Defective Vehicles on NYC Streets

Some drivers who need to replace defective Takata air bags say they are being forced to keep their cars on New York City streets.

Their dealerships say they don’t have space to store the vehicles until the recalled airbags are fixed, so drivers who park on the street need to constantly move their cars to meet parking regulations.

“If you don’t have it in one of these $500-$600 Manhattan monthly spaces, you’ve got to move your car constantly, you know, for the different street cleaning days,” said Marc Rothenberg, a lawyer for people hurt by defective cars.

In one case, a dealership requires customers to sign a document certifying they want to retain possession of their recalled vehicles, the I-Team learned. 

Claudia Rabin, who leases a recalled Acura RDX, said she waited about a month for a replacement part. In order to qualify for a loaner SUV, Acura of Brooklyn required her to sign a document with the following language: "I wish to retain the Subject Vehicle in my possession until the parts necessary to complete the Subject Recall Repair become available."

Rabin signed the document, but felt it was underhanded. 

“If something happens to me in the car, it makes me responsible,” Rabin said.

“I did not choose to take the car and I was quite adamant about the fact that I didn’t want the car,” Rabin said. “There is no parking for another car where I live.”

The Takata air bag recall is the largest safety recall in automobile history, and is already linked to 11 deaths.

As of last week, more than 60 million Takata airbags were recalled because they can launch shrapnel into a car’s passenger compartment.

“If you’re, God forbid. in an accident, and your airbag deploys, you or your occupants are subject to this metal firing at your face, your head, your neck at incredible speeds with incredible strengths that can cause deaths and horrible injuries,” Rothenberg said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the federal agency that oversees car recalls. The agency has fined Takata a record $70 million for lapses relating to their air bags. The agency sent the I-Team an email insisting it cannot force car companies to store cars, or provide replacement vehicles—only that they replace the airbags.

“We completely sympathize with owners, and the agency is doing everything it can to get manufacturers to replace recalled air bag inflators as quickly as possible,” the statement read. “NHTSA doesn’t have authority to require automakers to provide loaner vehicles to consumers.”

When the I-Team reached out to Acura of Brooklyn, a company representative referred the I-Team to Honda, which manufactures Acuras. Honda spokesman Chris Martin said four out of the nine Honda and Acura dealers in New York City are not able to store defective cars until they are fixed, but Honda has not received any direct complaints about the issue from customers in New York City.

“While some of our New York dealers have acknowledged some complaints about the lack of vehicle storage,  Honda has not yet received any direct complaints about this issue from customers in New York City,” Martin wrote in an email.

Rothenberg questions why money from Takata’s fines isn’t used to pay for vehicle parking while cars wait for recall repairs.

“You know they just levied a very high fine on Takata, you know which was paid, and where’s that money going to?” Rothenberg said.

Rabin’s car had its airbags replaced last week and is now safe to drive. But there are still thousands of New York City vehicles in need of repairs.

To find out if yours is one of them, go to http://www.safercar.gov.

Takata said in a statement it's working to supply replacement kits as "efficiently as possible," and that it's produced nearly 14 million replacement kits in the U.S. to date. 

"The safety of the driving public is our top priority, and we are committed to being part of the solution to this highly complex matter," the company said. 

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