AutoNation Halts Sales of Used Cars in Airbag Recalls

October 30, 2014

The head of the nation’s biggest car dealership chain says it won’t sell used cars being recalled for exploding airbags due to conflicting advice from automakers and lack of direction from the government.

The recalls are giving the auto industry a black eye because they are “confusing and incoherent,” AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said Tuesday in an interview.

Ten automakers have recalled more than 12 million cars with airbags made by parts supplier Takata Corp. The air bags can inflate with too much force, blowing apart metal canisters and sending shards flying at drivers and passengers. Safety advocates say that four people have died due to the problem.

credit: ICE HSI
credit: ICE HSI

Some automakers have limited recalls to a few Southern states with high humidity, while others have expanded them. Still others have done national recalls for similar problems. Dozens of models made by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota dating to the 2001 model year are covered by the recalls.

“You have 10 different manufacturers taking 10 different positions,” Jackson said. “How are we and the consumers supposed to figure out what is the right line?”

AutoNation, a 277-franchise chain that’s in 15 states, won’t sell any of the cars if they are being recalled under supervision of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The cars can be sold once the recall repairs are done. About 40 cars in Southern states are affected. But a spokesman said the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based retailer will sell models equipped with Takata air bags outside of the Southern states as long as they aren’t being recalled by NHTSA.

The industry needs to sit down and talk about standardizing the recalls, Jackson says. “I think there needs to be a process when a component fails across multiple manufacturers, that there’s a coherent, coordinated recall effort. We do not have that here,” he says.

NHTSA, the government’s auto safety agency, should be coordinating and standardizing the effort, he said. But it doesn’t have a top executive. David Friedman has been serving as acting or deputy administrator since December of last year. The Obama administration has said to expect a new administrator within two weeks.

“I don’t know why they leave these positions like that for so long,” Jackson said in an interview after the company posted quarterly earnings.

Government investigators believe that prolonged exposure to moisture in the air makes the airbag inflator chemicals burn too fast, creating too much pressure. They’re still doing tests of inflators replaced by dealers to figure out how much humidity is enough to cause the problem. Depending on the results, the recall areas could be expanded. So far NHTSA says it hasn’t found problems outside of the following areas: Florida, Puerto Rico, limited areas near the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana, as well as Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii.

Lawmakers have called on NHTSA to do a national recall. But the agency says it doesn’t have data to support that. Plus, a national recall would divert a limited number of replacement parts from states where regulators say the need is most urgent.

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