WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday said the recall of defective Takata airbags is about to expand by "a few thousand vehicles" and that the agency has tentatively identified an eighth U.S. fatality linked to the recall.
Specific details on the expanded recall are still vague.
NHTSA said it has not posted vehicle identification numbers (VIN) of the affected cars on its website or compiled the specific number of vehicles included in the expanded recall.
The federal safety agency expects to post that information in a few days.
When asked how consumers should proceed, NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said during a media conference call, "My suggestion is to wait until we have those VINs loaded to see if you're affected. If you are affected, contact your dealer to see when you can have the repairs completed."
American Honda Motor Co. confirmed that it recently learned of the reported rupture of a Takata driver-side front airbag inflator in a fatal crash of a 2001 Honda Accord coupe on July 22, 2015 near Pittsburgh.
The driver was a minor and Honda said it will not release the name of the deceased "out of respect for the family."
"We are working hard to understand this crash and the cause of the injuries that resulted in this fatality," Honda said. "Honda has not yet had the opportunity to inspect the vehicle and we are coordinating with representatives of the family, NHTSA and Takata to inspect the vehicle as quickly as possible to evaluate if the Takata airbag inflator ruptured in this crash."
The 2001 Accord coupe was included in a February 2010 national safety recall campaign for the driver-side front airbag inflator.
Honda said it made "numerous attempts" to contact the previous owner from 2010 through 2012, but records indicate the necessary recall repairs were not completed. Honda said it mailed an additional recall notice to the current owner of the vehicle on July 21, 2015, one day before the crash.
NHTSA spokesman Trowbridge said the death "appears to be related" to a defective driver-side Takata airbag inflator. NHTSA learned of the death on December 17 and is still investigating.
Trowbridge said the vehicle previously had been in the "Gulf region," an area of high absolute humidity that appears to heighten the risk of problems with the Takata inflators.
In the meantime, NHTSA said Takata recall completion rates are "accelerating," with the pace of repairs more than doubled.
In the two weeks ending on November 6, the number of repaired vehicles was about 400,000. One month later, in the two-week period ending on December 4, NHTSA said dealers completed 950,000 remedy repairs nationwide.
As of December 4, the nationwide completion rate to replace Takata driver-side airbags stood at 27.3 percent. The completion rate to replace Takata passenger-side airbags was 25.8 percent in the same time period. Those figures are about 7 percent higher in regions with high absolute humidity.
Overall, of the 19 million vehicles with 23 million airbag inflators involved in the Takata recall, 30 percent have been repaired.
However, since the federal government is requiring that all inflators that use an ammonium-nitrate propellant be replaced, the recall ultimately will involve "tens of millions" of vehicles, according to NHTSA.
In other Takata-related developments, NHTSA has appointed an independent monitor to oversee the Takata recalls. The agency said John D. Buretta, a former principal deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice, will play a "significant role" in overseeing "the largest, most complex consumer safety effort in U.S. history."
Edmunds says: NHTSA once again is urging consumers to check www.safercar.gov to see if their vehicle is included in the Takata recall. If it is, it's time to get the vehicle repaired at an authorized dealership as soon as possible.