Takata Airbags May Have Been Taken from Wrecked Vehicles and Put in Non-Recalled Vehicles

It is legal to install parts salvaged from damaged cars in other vehicles

Takata Airbags May Have Been Taken from Wrecked Vehicles and Put in Non-Recalled Vehicles
Image: NCCC
April 20, 2017

A near-fatal crash has revealed a loophole in the efforts to get dangerous Takata airbags off the streets.

Inflator shrapnel punctured Karina Dorado's trachea in a wreck on March 3. Her 2002 Honda Accord was not included in the recent recall to fix the dangerous parts. It turns out that her car's airbag had been replaced with the recalled Takata model at some point in the vehicle's history.

Dorado's father, Jose, purchased the car for her without knowing its history—including a 2015 wreck in Phoenix that left it a total loss as declared by an insurance company.

Vehicle history tracking service AutoCheck revealed that the vehicle was given a salvage title, fixed, and resold last spring in Las Vegas.

After Dorado's crash, Honda engineers traced the airbag inflator's serial number to a 2001 Accord that had been recalled and but had never had the part replaced.

According to Honda spokesman Chris Martin, the airbag must have been removed from the 2001 Accord by a salvage yard, or possibly even stolen. It then made its way to the shop that fixed the 2002 Accord eventually bought by Jose Dorados.

It is legal for parts under recall, including airbag assemblies, to be taken from wrecked vehicles and sold by junkyards to repair shops that may be unaware of the danger. Such transactions are not monitored by any government agency, and no states have a law against re-using recalled parts.

"What there should be is a program that prevents old air bags from being recycled," commented Michael Brooks, acting director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

Dorado family attorney Billie-Marie Morrison said that she doesn't know whether or not Jose Dorado tried to find out about any unrepaired recalls by entering the 2002 Accord's vehicle identification number in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)'s recall database.

It would not have mattered if he had, however, as NHTSA lists zero outstanding recalls for the model. According to Honda, before the 2001 Accord was wrecked in 2015, its previous owners had the airbag inflator replaced twice under recalls.

Brooks recommends that consumers be wary of vehicles that have salvage titles because it isn't possible to know where the parts came from or how good the repairs were. He said that, though some of these parts are safe, stolen or counterfeit parts can also be used.

"There are just so many questions that are impossible to answer," he said. "I would always recommend buying something that has no crash history if you can."