WASHINGTON — Federal safety regulators may seek additional recalls of Takata airbag inflators, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind said on Thursday in an update of the unprecedented vehicle recall.
Rosekind did not say which automakers or vehicles could be added to the list of those currently under investigation by NHTSA.
The agency is looking into the June rupture of a Takata side airbag in a 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan SUV. The current Takata recall involves front airbags.
Rosekind made a convincing case that NHTSA should coordinate the Takata recall to make sure that an estimated 23.4 million defective airbag inflators installed in 19.2 million U.S. vehicles by 11 manufacturers are properly replaced.
Rosekind said a decision on whether to seek a coordinated remedy approach to the recall will be made by Thanksgiving.
"We know many consumers are frustrated by lack of available parts," Rosekind said. "NHTSA is considering a number of steps to accelerate repairs. Our intent is to move quickly."
A coordinated remedy program could give the agency the power to allow repair shops, not just auto dealerships, to fix affected vehicles. But at this point, dealerships are the only places authorized to perform repairs.
The national recall completion rate for all affected manufacturers in the Takata recall is 22.5 percent, NHTSA said.
The rate is not good enough to address the risk that these inflators pose to the driving public, it said.
NHTSA said Takata will ship 2.8 million replacement kits to manufacturers this month, but not all kits are bound for the U.S.
Seventy percent of the new inflators are made by suppliers other than Takata. The Japanese supplier is serving as a distribution point for the replacement parts.
"Consumer apathy" is a part of the problem, said Jennifer Timian, chief of NHTSA's recall management division.
"This recall is extremely serious," Timian said. "The public needs to be aware of this recall and the public needs to act. They need to call their local dealer and schedule an appointment."
Timian also warned consumers not to buy replacement airbags online or from salvage yards.
For now, "consumers should not have their airbags replaced by anyone other than a dealer," she said. "We know people are selling airbags with replacement parts on eBay."
As of October 20, 2015, NHTSA said it is aware of 89 driver-airbag and 32 passenger-airbag inflator "events" in the U.S., with 98 of those alleging injuries. Some of the injuries include broken facial bones, loss of eyesight and broken teeth.
There have been eight fatalities linked to defective Takata airbags worldwide. All of the fatalities involved people in the driver seat.
The defective airbags can explode with too much force, spewing shrapnel at vehicle occupants. The root cause of the problem has not been determined.
Edmunds says: You can check to see if your vehicle is included in the Takata airbag recall by using NHTSA's VIN Lookup Tool or by contacting your dealer as the federal government works to sort out this complex recall.