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Honda Turns to Facebook to Track Down Owners of Cars with Takata “Grenade” Airbags

Thousands of Americans are still driving cars with about a 50 percent chance of an airbag exploding and sending shrapnel into their faces if they get into even a minor accident. It may sound dramatic, but according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), testing has shown that, in a large number of 2001–2003 Honda and Acura models, the Takata airbags’ PSDI “Alpha” inflators, if triggered, have a one in two chance of “explod[ing] like a grenade.”

Affected vehicles, which NHTSA and Honda are calling “Alpha cars,” include the 2001–2002 Accord and Civic, the 2002 Honda CR-V and Odyssey, the 2002–2003 Acura 3.2TL, the 2003 Acura 3.2CL, and the 2003 Honda Pilot. As of last week, there are about 137,000 Alpha Hondas that still need repair, Honda spokesman Chris Martin told Car and Driver. Martin said about 100,000 of those vehicles are believed to be still on the road.

These cars make up a small percentage of the 34 million vehicles affected by the unprecedented Takata airbag recall. NHTSA has advised owners of non-Alpha cars and trucks to continue driving them with the airbags activated until a repair is ready, because in most vehicles it is more likely that the inflator will not rupture and the car or truck is safer with the airbags functioning as intended.

To reach the owners of the Alpha vehicles and millions more affected by the recall, Honda is using Facebook’s Custom Audience tool. The automaker is matching encrypted email addresses associated with Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) under recall with Facebook user IDs. The social media site’s Custom Audience feature allows businesses to tailor advertisements to very specific groups, and one of its many ways of doing so is by having businesses plug in email addresses from customer data that they have on file.

While some companies may be using it to sell you things you don’t need, Honda is using Facebook to send its target audience a public-service announcement. The narrator is a Honda customer, Stephanie Erdman, who suffered permanent damage to her right eye when a Takata airbag inflator in her 2002 Civic ruptured in September 2013. The PSA includes a graphic image of Erdman’s injury, along with her personal plea that owners of affected vehicles get their cars fixed as soon as possible.

Honda PSA for Takata airbags
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Explosive Takata airbag inflators have been responsible for at least 13 deaths and hundreds of injuries in the United States. All but one of those deaths have been in Honda vehicles; the outlier was a 2006 Ford Ranger in South Carolina. But the scope of the Takata recall goes well beyond Honda. NHTSA’s latest report, issued on November 15, said, “There are currently 19 affected vehicle manufacturers with an estimated 46 million unrepaired, defective Takata airbag inflators under recall in about 34 million U.S. vehicles.”

While the Alpha cars make up a slim minority of that, their high chance of a defective airbag has had Honda and even some local governments trying alternative methods to reach owners of affected vehicles. The Florida Department of  Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has sent a letter in English and Spanish to all registered owners of relevant cars. In Houston, the Department of Public Works included double-sided, bilingual inserts in more than 400,000 water bills in November 2016 warning, “Airbags in certain 2001–2003 Hondas and Acuras pose the most urgent threat—with up to a 50 percent chance of rupture.” Both Honda and NHTSA have done door-to-door canvassing to tell owners of affected vehicles about the recall.

In overseeing the Takata airbag recall, NHTSA has divided affected vehicles into 12 priority groups, which correspond to the risk of airbag explosion based on a vehicle’s age and its exposure to heat and humidity. Independent testing has found that the faulty airbag inflators are most likely to rupture after long-term exposure to temperature fluctuations and moisture, so older vehicles and those located in high-humidity parts of the country are considered top priorities for repair. There are rolling recall deadlines that extend into 2020, and NHTSA is aiming for a 100 percent completion rate. Owners can check to see if their vehicle is affected and get information by plugging in their vehicle’s VIN on NHTSA’s online recall lookup tool.

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