Airbags protect our most important resource – human life. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, frontal airbags have saved 42,856 lives since 2012. When paired with a lap and shoulder seat belt, frontal airbags reduce the risk of death by 51 percent, (compared with a 45 percent reduction for belts alone in frontal crashes). In other words, airbags protect lives and reduce liability.
A recall unlike many others
Liability took on a whole new meaning in late 2014 – for drivers and dealers alike – when seat belt, child seat, and airbag manufacturer Takata announced it was recalling approximately 34 million airbags in the United States alone. Tragically a device designed to save lives has done just the opposite.
In the case of the Takata airbag recall, if propellant wafers in the airbag break down the propellant then burns too rapidly. This creates excessive pressure in the inflator body. Metal shards can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin. To date, faulty inflators in Takata specific airbags have caused over 70 serious injuries – including 8 fatalities.
Automotive recalls are nothing new. Since 2000, Toyota, Bridgestone, and Firestone have all had large scale (then) recalls. However, each of these three examples illustrates how an automotive recall can quickly turn into a Public Relations headache. From air filters to windshield wipers, most recalls are generally a nuisance – for all involved.
Where did it go wrong?
Multiple contributing factors including poor quality control in the manufacture, exposure to heat and humidity over time and even car design itself led to this recall. The recall affects virtually all of the large automotive manufacturers including Acura, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.
With whom does liability fall?
Because of the size and scope of this recall, Takata has placed responsibility for recalling these airbags back on automotive manufacturers who in turn are then placing responsibility on local dealers. Understandably, affected automotive dealerships are being flooded with potentially millions of car owners looking to remove and replace their defective airbags. This unexpected wave of concerned car owners puts a strain on automotive dealerships, particularly their service departments. Limited information about how to handle the recall as well as disposal further compounds an already murky and strained situation.
This Takata airbag recall creates potential liability issues for automotive dealers in multiple ways.
Non-compliance – An automotive manufacturer/dealer opens itself up to legal liability ramifications if they choose not to properly communicate to affected car owners.
Disposal – Due to the explosive nature of these airbags and their hazardous material classification, an automotive manufacturer/dealer opens itself up to legal liability ramifications if they choose not to properly dispose of this material (once received back from the car owner). Airbag inflators or airbag modules (in addition to seat-belt pre-tensioners) are classified as hazardous material – division/category 9 (DOT 9). Airbag inflators or modules which utilize compressed gas or airbag (in addition to seat-belt pre-tensioners) are also classified as hazardous material – division/category 2.2 (DOT 2.2).
Improper handling- Recalled airbags must be completely destroyed and in doing so, dealerships ensure that those airbags won’t end up back in the market. While it is safe and legal to install a perfectly good non-deployed airbag in another car, a recalled airbag is a risky proposition – not to mention illegal.
Both un-deployed airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners contain potentially hazardous substances like sodium azide. The U.S. EPA left it up to each state to decide whether airbags and pre-tensioners are considered hazardous waste, and many states – including Oregon, Colorado and Wisconsin – were quick to say yes.
Dealerships have to stay up-to-date on any relevant state laws and, in the absence of any state legislation pertaining to the materials, are required to view these components as hazardous waste.
So, what does this all mean for you – the dealer? The good news is you do have full control of whether to reduce or increase your liability. When it comes to proper disposal of airbags – recalled, deployed or non-deployed – a process by which that the airbag is completely destroyed and raw materials are recovered to be processed in completely different products is a good option to consider (compared to landfill). Explosive materials anywhere are generally not a good idea, landfills included.
Following proper disposal protocol also reduces your liability as an automotive dealer when it comes to counterfeit airbags. The NHTSA issued a warning in 2012 alerting consumers to the presence of counterfeit airbags in the market. Interestingly, some of Takata’s recalled airbags are on this counterfeit watch list. Properly disposing of airbags at your dealership ensures that any airbag received at your dealership ends up where it should be – no longer potentially endangering anyone else.
For the past two years, many dealership groups have placed their trust in Quest Resource Management Group to effectively manage their airbag destruction and recycling programs – reducing their liability along the way. Quest works with only reputable recyclers who maximize the recycling of materials. The recycling process is safe and documented.
Deployed and non-deployed airbags are placed by dealership personnel into provided shipping containers. When containers reached recommended capacity, a container pick-up is scheduled. The approved recycler then picks up the container, safely transporting it to the recycling facility in that area.
At the conclusion of the process, participating dealerships are provided with a certificate of destruction, bill of lading and other applicable paperwork. This documentation contributes to reduced liability for the dealership and is required in order to be reimbursed for complying with recall specifications.
To see how Quest can help your automotive dealership lower its environmental footprint and reduce liability, click here.