Q: How do I know if I own one of the recalled cars?
A: In most cases you should have already received a notice in the mail. If you haven’t, don’t remember or may have lost it, both the maker of your vehicle and the government (at safercar.gov) have tools that let you search by the vehicle’s unique vehicle identification number, or VIN, for its recall status. Be aware, though, that the government database site goes down frequently, so the maker would be your best opportunity.
Q: My car’s one of the recalled models. What should I do?
A: NHTSA urges you to immediately call a dealer for your brand and schedule a repair appointment. Some of the individual makers now advise not allowing a front-seat passenger until the repair is done.
Q: Will my car be fixed right away?
A: Depends on the automaker. Some already have the key part, the air bag inflator, on hand. For others, there may be a wait. “We are in decent shape with replacement inflators,” says Alan Adler of General Motors, which is seeking 9,940 Pontiac Vibes, built for GM by Toyota, from the 2003 to 2005 model years. BMW’s Dave Buchko says “with 574,000 total affected vehicles, it should be some time before we have enough for all vehicles.”
Q: What happens in the meantime?
A: Also will vary. Toyota, for one, will have dealers in certain areas disable the passenger air bag and apply a warning sticker that no one should occupy the seat until a replacement is installed. Not all automakers are taking as tough a line. BMW says it hasn’t had any abnormal air bag deployments and believes the risk is “extremely low,” so it is simply suggesting that drivers not let passengers occupy the front seat until repairs are made.
Q: Who gets the available spare parts first?
A: Some automakers are giving priority to repairs in the high-humidity areas specified in NHTSA’s warning. NHTSA named Hawaii and Florida as two states where the risk is highest, plus Puerto Rico and several U.S. territories. Toyota says Takata has found in testing of returned air bags that they are most likely to be defective in high-humidity areas.
Q: How long does the replacement repair take?
A: Varies by automaker. GM’s Adler says the process takes six hours.
Q: Who is footing the bill, the automaker or Takata?
A: Unclear. Automaker representatives say they don’t know yet. Even though Takata has taken two charges against its earnings so far, there have been no announcements about cost sharing. This much is clear: Vehicle owners won’t pay a dime.