Humans are historically and foolishly bad at heeding a warning in a letter, going to a shop and having their car repaired for free. That’s called “getting a recall done,” and people are so terrible at it that Honda employees are going to homes telling customers to take their potentially explosive Takata airbags seriously.
If you’re an absolute professional at ignoring safety warnings about the car you depend on each day, the exploding airbags became the largest safety recall in automotive history and sent Takata into bankruptcy.
More than 100 million vehicles worldwide have airbags with the potential to blow up due to cheaply made and faulty inflators, which had been linked to at least 17 deaths and more than 150 injuries at the time of Takata’s bankruptcy proceedings. The death and injury numbers are low compared to the amount of cars affected, but the fix is free and a far better alternative than airbag shrapnel blowing up in your face.
Yet, people just aren’t doing their recalls. The lawsuits and settlements in the fiasco caused by Takata switching to potentially dangerous inflators—which at least four automakers knew would be a mess before people started getting hurt—have ordered car companies to more aggressively try to get the repairs done.
That includes Honda employees making door-to-door visits to warn owners of the affected cars, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal.
But even more surprising than the forceful methods automakers are having to use to clean up this mess is the fact that so many owners are oblivious to the potentially lethal devices in their own driveways. From the Journal’s story:
David Benevides, a 41-year-old small-engine mechanic in Hawaii, was surprised in September to learn from his son that a Honda Motor Co. representative had visited his home with a warning: The air bag in his car might explode.
Mr. Benevides lives 25 miles from the nearest town, Hilo. He had received recall notices for his 2002 Civic and seen news stories about rupturing air bags, but said he “didn’t take it seriously” before Honda showed up at his doorstep.
Benevides was “surprised” to hear someone from Honda visited his home about a recall he “didn’t take ... seriously” until they did. That is not good life practice.
The Journal reports that while mailed letters are standard for recalls, regulators in the U.S. find the airbags to be risky enough for extra warnings—especially in humid areas, since moisture can make the faulty components more volatile.
Some of those extra warnings include texts, emails, social media, phone calls, multimedia campaigns, in-person visits and mobile repairs, according to the Journal. The story said Honda even hired private investigators to find out more information about owners than state registration shows, and Honda’s also used email addresses to put video warnings on customers’ Facebook feeds upon login.
Despite all of the press coverage and extra warnings, the Journal reports that less than half the 46 million Takata airbags currently under recall have been repaired. Even worse, millions of recalled airbags were found to have a lazy fix in July and got recalled again.
If most car owners can’t do one recall, multiple recalls aren’t good news.
The Journal’s report goes deeply into the ways automakers are trying to turn this mess around at the commands of U.S. regulators. It’s fascinating, frightening and quite disturbing, thinking of how lax people are about their own livelihood.
The death and injury counts may be small in comparison to the amount of cars at risk, but the issue probably stopped feeling so small and trivial to people once they were directly affected by it. Don’t put yourself or others at risk for that.