Do You Have a Defective Airbag? How to Check

PHOTO: A worker demonstrates a wheel airbag initiator during a presentation for journalists at Takata Ignition Systems GmbH in Schoenebeck, Germany on April 17, 2014.PlayJens Meyer/AP Photo
WATCH How Do You Know If Your Car Has Recalled Airbags?

Dear ABC News Fixer: As an owner of a 2004 Toyota Tundra, I am concerned about my safety because of the airbag defect that has been in the news.

I have tried to determine whether I am at risk, but no one can tell me whether I have an ammonium nitrate-powered Takata airbag. I would like to have information with which to make a decision to possibly disable the airbag or mothball the vehicle.

The VIN of this vehicle is not on the published at-risk list, but I have no faith that the VIN list is complete. The manufacturer has claimed they cannot provide me with the brand and model of the airbag in my vehicle. Can you help?

- Patrick Goodall, Portland, Ore.

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Dear Patrick: Given the way the airbag recalls have been rolled out in dribs and drabs over the past several years, we can’t blame you for being concerned. Among the 19 million vehicles with airbags that have been recalled worldwide are some models of Toyotas, including some 2003 and 2004 Tundras -- though your vehicle is not one of them.

The ammonium nitrate inside the airbags, in the event of a collision, undergoes a chemical reaction that produces gas to inflate the airbag. In the recalled airbags, there is a risk that the chemicals could destabilize and cause the metal canister inside the airbag to explode. At least six deaths – none of them in Toyotas -- have been linked to the problem.

We contacted Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to try to get some more information for you. Toyota said your Tundra is not under recall. Your car does indeed have a Takata airbag, but that particular group of airbags was not among those identified as potentially defective, said Cindy Knight, a PR manager for Toyota.

Knight added that Toyota is part of an industry-wide testing initiative to identify any other problems related to the defective airbags. She said if the recall is widened, they would notify you by first class mail. NHTSA didn’t have much to add, other than to say you and other consumers can keep checking their VIN lookup tool at Safercar.gov for any news.

CLICK HERE to check your VIN number.

The airbag recalls have involved numerous makes of vehicles including Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge/Ram, Ford, Nissan and others.

NHTSA did say the airbags seem to be vulnerable in places with persistent high humidity and high temperatures, such as Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, the Gulf Coast states, Hawaii and island territories.

As for whether you should relax or continue to be concerned, Sean Kane of The Safety Institute, a nonprofit research organization, says you and other consumers are pretty much at the mercy of the auto corporations and NHTSA. Kane said he understands why consumers are skeptical, given the way the recall was rolled out slowly and then expanded bit by bit to include more vehicles.

You told us you might just go get new airbags anyway. But that, too, could be a challenge, as the inventory of replacement air bags is so low that it reportedly may take up to two years just to manufacture enough to replace those in the recalled vehicles.

- The ABC News Fixer

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