WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants 11 automakers to "accelerate" the pace of repairs in the massive Takata recall of 33.8 million vehicles with defective airbags and is launching a legal effort, it said in a notice on Thursday in the federal register.
The unusual move may provide some reassurance to affected consumers who have been unable to get replacement parts for their vehicles.
NHTSA said the Takata airbag recall, the largest in U.S. history, "adds a previously unprecedented level of complexity to this recall and remedy process."
Federal safety regulators say they are concerned about "a patch-work solution" cobbled together by individual automakers that may not get the recall repairs made "within a reasonable time."
The defective Takata airbags can deploy with too much force, shooting metal shrapnel at vehicle occupants. The airbags are linked to at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Takata is expected to increase production of replacement parts to 1 million kits a month by September.
But NHTSA clearly wants more say in how to "organize and prioritize the recall and remedy of the manufacturers, in order to aid the manufacturers in accomplishing their significant task of replacing all defective Takata airbag inflators," the document said.
If U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx "determines that a manufacturer's remedy program is not likely to be capable of completion within a reasonable time, the Secretary may require the manufacturer to 'accelerate' the remedy program if the Secretary finds that there is a risk of serious injury or death if the remedy program is not accelerated and that acceleration of the remedy program can be reasonably achieved by expanding the sources of replacement parts, expanding the number of authorized repair facilities or both," the document said.
At this point, it is not clear how federal safety regulators would order the sourcing of replacement parts or whether NHTSA would prioritize certain vehicles or regions in its allocation of replacements parts.
Also not yet determined is whether NHTSA "should order a re-replacement schedule for replacement frontal inflators if Takata cannot provide assurances for the ongoing safety of the inflators," the document said.
NHTSA said it is seeking comments on how automakers should comply with such an order. The 11 affected automakers are BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks North America, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.
In the meantime, the NHTSA Web site is advising consumers that it may take automakers "a few days to several weeks" to gather individual VINs or vehicle identification numbers associated with the recall.
"It is important that you check back periodically as a recall on your vehicle may not show up immediately," it said.
NHTSA's Lookup Tool lets owners enter a VIN number to learn if a specific vehicle has not been repaired as part of a safety recall in the last 15 years.
Edmunds says: Consumers should be in close touch with their dealers to find out if their vehicle is affected by the Takata airbag recall and when replacement parts may become available. They should also be aware that it may take months for the situation to be resolved.