WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lawmakers are pushing for a faster resolution of Takata's airbag crisis, the largest auto safety recall in U.S. history, but a Congressional hearing on Tuesday revealed it may take years to fix the problem in nearly 34 million vehicles.
Takata and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) faced criticism for creating "considerable confusion for the public."
"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to see that more needs to be done and that it should have been done sooner," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). "When lives are put in jeopardy, delay is deadly."
The defective Takata airbags have been linked to at least six deaths worldwide and at least 100 injuries.
The search is still on for the root cause of the problem, although NHTSA said the root cause may never be found. The Takata airbag recall affects an estimated 13 percent of cars on the road in the U.S., according to a House panel.
Takata said it has supplied dealers with over 4 million replacement kits since January 2014, which leaves about 30 million to build. Legislators noted it could take up to three years to provide parts and service to all affected vehicles. Some previously repaired vehicles may need a second repair.
Also, not all affected automakers have provided federal safety regulators with information on which vehicles are included in the recall, leaving consumers scrambling for answers.
Seven of 11 automakers have given the NHTSA information on 30.4 million vehicles, but it is still unclear how many Vehicle Identification Numbers are on the NHTSA Web site.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said complete information should be available within the next two weeks, "if not sooner."
He is advising consumers to check the NHTSA Web site on a weekly basis to see if their vehicle is included in the recall or is being called back for a second repair.
"The driving public should continue checking VINs against the NHTSA database, including vehicles that have been previously recalled," Rosekind said.
"Some of these [repairs] may not be a lifelong fix," Rosekind said. "Your dealer should be able to tell you if they have a fix that is long term or if it's an interim remedy.
There are over 10 different configurations of the affected airbags, making the situation complicated, he added. Federal safety regulators are still in the process of testing the adequacy of the remedies and coordinating the search for a cause.
A public hearing this fall by NHTSA is expected to shed more light on the situation.
In the meantime, a Takata executive told Congress the Japanese supplier will reduce the use of the controversial airbag chemical ammonium nitrate.
Kevin M. Kennedy, a Takata executive vice president, said he expects the company's use of ammonium nitrate will "decline rapidly."
When asked how can Takata assure consumers that a second replacement will be effective, Kennedy replied: "On most of the replacement parts, they will be later designs or from our competitors."
The answers did not seem to please lawmakers.
"The messaging around these airbag recalls has been tortured at best," Upton said.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) told Kennedy: "We don't seem to be getting the answers. There's no excuse. Zero. Maybe we're looking to hear you say 'We screwed up.'"
Edmunds says: Consumers need to keep checking NHTSA's VIN Lookup Tool for the latest information. They should also stay in close touch with their dealers as this situation continues to unfold.