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Takata Airbag Inquiry Widens

Air Bags

Takata Airbag Inquiry Widens


Air Bags

WASHINGTON — The recall of potentially defective Takata airbags, one of the largest and most complex auto recalls in the nation’s history, may grow even larger.
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Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Thursday that the agency had expanded its investigation beyond the airbags situated in front of the driver and front-seat passenger to include side airbags. They said it was also examining all model years, not just older inflaters, for defects that could cause the airbags to rupture violently and spew metal fragments at vehicle occupants. If those airbags are determined to be defective, the regulator said, the already spiraling recall may need to be widened.

More than 19 million cars made by 12 automakers have already been recalled in the United States to fix potentially dangerous airbags. Millions more have been recalled abroad. The ruptures have been linked to eight deaths worldwide and dozens of injuries.
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Related Coverage

Takata and Honda Kept Quiet on Study That Questioned Airbag PropellantOCT. 21, 2015

So far, the recalls have been limited to older airbag inflaters — the metal casings that contain the propellant — in front of the driver and passenger. But recently, side airbag inflaters, including those in new cars, have raised concerns.
Mark R. Rosekind, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has expanded its investigation of defective Takata airbags. Credit Matt Roth for The New York Times

This summer, regulators asked Volkswagen to provide information about the rupture of a Takata-made side airbag in a Tiguan from the 2015 model year. And last weekend, General Motors recalled almost 400 cars in the United States after Takata informed the automaker that side airbags in those vehicles had failed in tests.

“These have all been brought under the current investigation,” Mark R. Rosekind, the administrator at the safety agency, said to reporters on Thursday after a public meeting on the airbag recall.

Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for the agency, said that all Takata inflaters using a chemical compound called ammonium nitrate as a propellant were “within the scope of the investigation — all model years.”

It is not known, though, how many vehicles could potentially be affected. Of the 12 automakers with Takata-made airbags, only Chrysler gave an estimate — 25,000 vehicles — but it was limited to those with inflaters similar to the ones in the VW and G.M. cars in question. A spokesman for Chrysler noted that it had not experienced issues with those inflaters. Some of the auto manufacturers said they needed more time to confirm figures. Others declined to comment altogether.

Takata said it was investigating the latest ruptures.

“While we are still investigating the cause of this malfunction, we believe it is unrelated to the previous recalls, which the extensive data suggests were a result of aging and long-term exposure to heat and high humidity,” said Jared Levy, a Takata spokesman. “We are cooperating closely with N.H.T.S.A. and the vehicle manufacturers.”

Mr. Levy declined to give an estimate of how many cars might be affected if the recall were expanded to include side airbags.

Also on Thursday, Senators John Thune and Bill Nelson, the top Republican and Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to Takata demanding documentation about the side airbags.

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“Takata has repeatedly emphasized the critical role long-term exposure of vehicles to high heat and humidity may play in ruptures of its ammonium nitrate-based inflaters subject to previous recalls,” the senators wrote. “This incident, however, involved a vehicle that was less than one year old.”

Automakers are not required by law to install side airbags in vehicles, but during the 1990s many developed and added them in response to rules strengthening side-impact protection.

Officials at the agency said that they still had not determined the root cause of the explosions, but they suggested that the ruptures were most likely related to the ammonium nitrate that Takata used to inflate its airbag.

“We believe that the reason these inflaters are malfunctioning in this way has something to do with the type of propellant Takata is using and how Takata engineers it,” said Stephen A. Ridella, director of the safety agency’s office for vehicle crashworthiness research, who spoke during the meeting. He said the agency was looking at the way the ammonium nitrate, which is treated with stabilizing chemicals, changes as it ages and burns differently.
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Related Takata Airbag Coverage

Airbag Compound Has Vexed Takata for YearsDec. 10, 2014
U.S. Agency Sets Fines for Maker of AirbagsFeb. 21, 2015
Toyota and Nissan Recall 6.5 Million More Vehicles Over Takata AirbagsMay 14, 2015
Lawmakers Spread Anger in Recalls Over AirbagsJune 24, 2015
For Drivers, Confusion Reigns in Takata Airbag RecallMay 21, 2015
Airbag Recall Widens to 34 Million Cars as Takata Admits DefectsMay 20, 2015

Patents filed by Takata show that its engineers have been aware of the potentially dangerous effects of moisture and volatile temperatures on ammonium nitrate for almost two decades and have long struggled to stabilize the compound.

Former Takata engineers have also said that they raised concerns over the use of the compound in the late 1990s but that their concerns went unheeded.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that, in 2010, as Takata and Honda assured regulators that the airbag explosions were linked to isolated manufacturing issues, they were also enlisting the help of a top pyrotechnic lab at Pennsylvania State University to determine whether ammonium nitrate might have been at the heart of the problem.

When the study’s conclusion in 2012 cast doubt on the use of ammonium nitrate, Takata disputed the methodology, dismissed the conclusion and waited more than two years before sharing the research with regulators.

Frank Borris, director of the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation, said that federal investigators’ understanding of the nature and scope of the defect had evolved.

“For several years, we believed that manufacturing errors caused the ruptures,” he said. “We no longer believe that to be true. Today, the exact cause of the ruptures is unknown, though it seems to be related to environmental conditions that affect inflaters as they age.”

Scott Yon, the agency’s chief of vehicle integrity, said that the risk of ruptures affected vehicles from five to 10 years old, and possibly older. He said that all seven of the deaths linked to the defect in the United States involved drivers, though it was still unclear why. That could simply be because there is always someone sitting in the driver’s seat, or it could be because the airbag inflater is located in the steering wheel, close to the driver, he said. The lone death outside the United States, in Malaysia, also occurred in the driver’s seat.

Continue reading the main story

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Agency officials pointed out that nearly one in every 10 ruptures had resulted in deaths. It was also aware of 98 injuries thought to have been caused by a rupturing Takata inflater, a slightly lower tally than has been reported by a Senate committee investigating the issue.

Mr. Yon also stressed that the Takata-made replacement inflaters being used to fix recalled cars were a stopgap remedy, and that they would also eventually need to be replaced.

“We believe they will face the same problem, and should not stay in these cars for an extended period of time,” he said. As many as 70 percent of replacement inflaters are being made by manufacturers other than Takata, including the Swedish-American giant Autoliv, the Japanese safety systems company Daicel and the American parts maker TRW Automotive, he said.

Mr. Levy, the Takata spokesman, said that Takata was working to supply the needed replacement parts in the sprawling airbag recall.

“Takata continues to support all efforts to ensure the effectiveness of the safety campaigns, including significantly ramping up the production of replacement kits,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting opened with a video showing what the airbag inflaters look like when they rupture. It is an explosion of sparks, smoke and metal pieces.

“Something goes horribly wrong,” Mr. Ridella said, describing the video. “The catastrophic failure inside the inflater shatters the tubing of the inflater, and sends metal fragments and shrapnel all over the test chamber. This is what we’re talking about when we say ‘rupture.’ ”

The 6 Most Common Causes of Automobile Crashes

Two cars crashed

The 6 Most Common Causes of Automobile Crashes

Two cars crashed


After the world’s first automobile-related fatality, which occurred in London in 1896, the coroner said: “This must never happen again.” Little did he know that from then on, some 25 million people would have died in vehicle-related accidents, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

And even with all the advancements in vehicle safety technology, the number of people killed in auto accidents continues to rise. Close to 1.2 million people die each year on the world’s roads, and that number is expected to rise by 65 percent by the year 2020, says a report by WHO and the World Bank.

What’s causing all of these accidents, which are, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the leading cause of death among people aged 3 to 33, should then be of great interest to all of us drivers out there. Ironically, when you take a look through the top six causes you’ll see that the greatest threat to drivers is the drivers themselves.

Distracted drivers cause between 25-50 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle accidents.

1. Distracted Drivers

Mark Edwards, Director of Traffic Safety at the American Automobile Association stated, “The research tells us that somewhere between 25-50 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in this country really have driver distraction as their root cause.”

The distractions are many, but according to a study conducted by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), texting — rubbernecking — or slowing down to gawk at another accident — caused the most accidents, accounting for 16 percent of all distraction-related crashes.

“I’ve had as many as three accidents at one scene, at one intersection,” says Officer John Carney of the Fairfax County Police. “Rubbernecking is the most dangerous distraction, in my experience.”

After rubbernecking, other common driver distractions included:

  • Driver fatigue (12 percent, see below)
  • Looking at scenery (10 percent)
  • Other passengers or children (9 percent)
  • Adjusting the radio, cassette or CD player (7 percent)
  • Reading the newspaper, books, maps or other documents (less than 2 percent)

Another increasingly serious cause of driver distraction is cell phone use, as more than 85 percent of the estimated 100 million cell-phone users talk on their phone regularly while driving, according to a Prevention magazine survey. At least one study has found that driving and talking on a cell phone at the same time quadruples the risk of crashing, which is why many cities have recently begun banning their use while driving unless a hands-free device is used.

2. Driver Fatigue

Drowsy drivers account for about 100,000 accidents every year in the United States, according to the U.S. National Traffic Safety Administration. The risk is greatest from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m., the time when most people are used to sleeping, however some people also become drowsy from noon to 2 p.m.

Symptoms of driver fatigue include heavy eyelids, frequent yawning, a drifting vehicle that wanders over road lines, varying vehicle speed for no reason, misjudging traffic situations, seeing things “jump out” in the road, feeling fidgety or irritable and daydreaming.

Other than making sure you are well-rested before getting behind the wheel, the Motor Accidents Authority (MAA) offers these tips to help avoid fatigue-related auto accidents:

  • Take a break from driving at least every two hours.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long trip.
  • Share the driving whenever possible.
  • Avoid long drives after work.
  • Avoid drinking before driving.
  • Pull over and stop when drowsiness, discomfort or loss of concentration occurs.
  • Find out whether any medicine you are taking may affect your driving.

3. Drunk Driving

In 2004, an estimated 16,654 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to NHTSA. This is an average of one death almost every half-hour. Drunk drivers were responsible for 30 percent of all fatal crashes during the week in 2003, but this percentage rose significantly over the weekends, during which 53 percent of fatal crashes were alcohol-related.

The only way to prevent this type of accident is to not drink and drive. Whenever alcohol is involved, choose a designated driver in advance. This person should not drink at all before driving.

4. Speeding

Speeding is a multi-tiered threat because not only does it reduce the amount of time necessary to avoid a crash, it also increases the risk of crashing and makes the crash more severe if it does occur. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), when speed increases from 40 mph to 60 mph, the energy released in a crash more than doubles. Simply slowing down and obeying posted speed limits can go a long way toward making the roads safer.

When traffic gets heavy, resist the urge to succumb to aggressive driving.

5. Aggressive Driving

Exactly what is an aggressive driver? According to the New York State Police, it’s anyone who:

“Operates a motor vehicle in a selfish, bold or pushy manner, without regard for the rights or safety of the other users of the streets and highways.” This includes behaviors such as:

  • Aggressive tailgating
  • Flashing lights at other drivers because you’re irritated at them
  • Aggressive or rude gestures
  • Deliberately preventing another driver from moving their vehicle
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical assaults
  • Disregarding traffic signals
  • Changing lanes frequently or in an unsafe manner
  • Failure to yield the right of way

If you come across an aggressive driver, the New York State Police gives these tips to protect yourself:

  • Remain calm
  • Keep your distance
  • Do not pass unless you have to
  • Change lanes once it is safe
  • If you cannot change lanes and an aggressive driver is behind you, stay where you are, maintain the proper speed and do not respond with hostile gestures
  • If the situation is serious, you may call 911 to report an aggressive driver

6. Weather.

Inclement weather, including heavy rain, hail, snowstorms, ice, high winds and fog can make driving more difficult. You’ll need more time to stop and may have trouble seeing the road clearly, so when the weather gets bad be sure to leave extra room between the car in front of you and slow down. If necessary, pull off the road to a rest stop (or to the side of the road, well out of the traffic lanes) until conditions improve.

What To Do If You Get Into An Accident


But first, here’s what to do before an accident.

The best way to deal with an accident is to be prepared for one. Here are some things you can do to right now to make sure you’re ready for the unpredictable.

  • Keep a vehicle safety kit in your car.
  • Put your most important info in the glovebox (ID cards, vehicle registration, emergency contacts, health insurance cards, etc.)
  • Make sure your phone is charged and download the GEICO Mobile App. It’ll come in super-handy at the accident scene and throughout the car repair process.

At The Accident Scene

Be sure to:

  • Move your car to a safe nearby location, but be careful not to leave the scene.
  • Check to see if anyone is hurt and call 911 for medical assistance.
  • Contact the police. They’ll let you know if an officer needs to be present.
  • If your car isn’t drivable, you can request roadside assistance.

What information should you exchange?

First, don’t reveal your policy limits or admit fault to anyone other than GEICO. Jot down or use the GEICO Mobile App’s Accident Assistance feature to collect the following information:

  • Names, phone numbers, addresses and email addresses of all occupants and witnesses
  • Location
  • Photos of the accident scene and all vehicles involved
  • Company name, policy number and phone number for other insurance companies
  • If emergency services respond: police report number, phone number, officer name and badge number, etc.

Report A Claim

You can report a claim online, through your smartphone using the GEICO Mobile App, or by calling us at 1-800-841-3000.

What happens next?

First, you’ll make an appointment to get a vehicle damage estimate at one of our inspection sites. If your car isn’t safe to drive, we’ll send a GEICO adjuster to look at your car at the location where it has been towed. You don’t have to meet with our adjuster at the tow location unless you want to. This appointment typically takes about 30 minutes.

About The Car Repair Process

You can have your vehicle repaired anywhere you wish. If you’d like our help when choosing a repair shop, consider and Auto Repair Xpress® location. You’ll get convenient and guaranteed repairs.

The adjuster and shop will begin the repair process as soon as you drop off your vehicle at the Auto Repair Xpress facility, and you’ll get regular updates on your car’s repair progress. The whole process relieves you of stress and inconvenience!

Report a new claim online or access your claim today to see if your appointment can be scheduled online.

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