Vehicles Archive

Takata Airbag Recall: Get Your Car Fixed Now

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An attempt to save money takes lives and ultimately costs millions in fines. Are you flipping mad yet? You should be.

Takata logoIn the largest auto recall in history, tens of millions of vehicles have been recalled to have 28.8 million airbags replaced. Takata airbag inflators have injured more than 100 people and killed 11 people: 10 in the U.S. and 1 in Malaysia, with the most recent being a 17 year old Texas girl on March 31. The 17 year old was driving a 2002 Honda Civic and, according to Honda, several recall notices had been sent to the registered owners (they claim not to have received any).

This story has been in the news for years and you’ve probably paid some attention to it just because of its frequency on the news, but with the media’s fixation on the election, disease du jour, ISIS, and so on, a few airbag deaths get left behind in our daily news consumption of dread.

What’s been happening is that the airbag itself isn’t killing drivers: it’s shrapnel from the explosive device used to deploy the airbag. These metal fragments explode out at such a force that they slice right through skin, eyes, arteries, and even spinal columns. This is happening when the airbags deploy in minor crashes, collisions from which the victims should be walking away.

Before you run out and disconnect your airbags (and I know some of you will), these explosive devices, or inflators, are needed in order to deploy the airbag. In fact, they’re in other safety devices throughout your vehicle and activate in crashes, but we’re focusing on airbags here. When the airbag sensors detect a crash, the inflators ignite, starting a chemical reaction that fills the airbag with gas. It sounds crazy scary, but airbags have saved thousands of lives. Between 2010 and 2013 (the latest year from which we have data), 9,554 lives were saved by frontal airbags. Many thousands upon thousands more lives have been saved since the frontal airbag was introduced in the ‘70s.

Background

Problems with exploding airbags initially cropped up back in 2004 in Alabama when a Honda Accord airbag exploded, injuring its driver. Because it was the first incident, both Honda and Takata chalked it up to being an anomaly and moved on without issuing a recall. According to the New York Times, Honda did report the incident to NHTSA, but didn’t elaborate in the report that it was an airbag rupture. Then again in 2007, three more ruptures were reported to Honda, and again, Honda did not elaborate in their reports to NHTSA that the airbags were exploding. In 2007, Honda told Takata of the ruptures and Takata went to work to find the cause: manufacturing problems at their Mexican plant. However, the ruptures continued and after more testing, Takata linked the problem to manufacturing problems at their Washington state factory.

Recalls began in 2008 and initially only driver’s side airbag inflators were recalled, but passenger airbag inflators were added as those started to rupture as well. Then in August 2015, side airbag inflators came under inspection when a Volkswagen Tiguan’s seat mounted side airbags ruptured after a collision with a deer. GM also reported a rupture to NHTSA. This “SSI-20” inflator is found in Volkswagen and GM vehicles and has been recalled in those vehicles too.

Takata Timeline

2016 Subaru Forester Review: Safety and Performance

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Subaru Forester StockI keep hearing such good things about the Subaru Forester: It gets a 5-star rating in government crash tests, and it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, so it’s hard to beat for safety. Forester owners I’ve talked to seem to love theirs. I wanted to try it out for myself, though, especially since my husband and I are in the market for a secondary car to replace our existing Honda Civic. Could the Forester be a contender?

Here’s a quick video overview, with more detailed information below.

Vehicle Features and Driving

I drove the 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited for a week. As I’ve mentioned in other vehicle reviews, I’m not a “car person” in the sense that I know a lot about fuel injectors or rear suspension. But I do know what I like, and I like a vehicle that feels responsive, as the Forester does.

First, this thing has amazing acceleration. I’d barely touch the gas pedal and it would take off—but not in a bad way. It was nice knowing I could pull out into traffic without worrying about my engine lagging behind. I didn’t do anything crazy, but it handled turns nicely, too. I’m not the kind of person who typically says, “Wow, I really enjoyed driving that,” but I really enjoyed driving that.

Forester EyeSight

EyeSight Cameras on either side of center windshield

The safety features are a big consideration with the Subaru. Foresters equipped with Subaru’s EyeSight technology earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick+. (Foresters without EyeSight are still a Top Safety Pick, just not a “plus.”) EyeSight technology is available on mid-level trim options, which is nice considering that some manufacturers offer similar safety packages only on their top trim levels.

EyeSight includes a frontal crash avoidance system that alerts drivers (through a sound and a dashboard light) when they get dangerously close to a vehicle or object in front of them. If necessary, the vehicle will apply the brakes to avoid or minimize a collision. Also included with EyeSight is a lane departure warning. If the vehicle detects dedicated lanes in the road, it can alert drivers when they veer over the lines.

The warning systems in the Forester seemed a bit more subtle than in some other cars I’ve tested. They’re still noticeable but not startling.

The Adaptive Cruise Control, which allows you to set your speed but then slows down or stops the car based on traffic ahead of it, worked perfectly the few times I tried it out. You can adjust your following distance (close, far, or in between) to your preference.

The only feature the Forester lacked that I would have appreciated is a blind-spot detection/avoidance system.

Subaru ForesterOne other nice safety feature of the Forester was adaptive headlights. My husband took the car out at night and came home to report that the headlights were flashing on and off. After doing some research, we realized it was actually the fog lights. When the headlights are on and the car turns or goes around curves, the fog light on that side of the vehicle lights up to give the driver a better view and a bit more reaction time in case something is around the bend. We were surprised that even just a slight turn of the steering wheel would activate the lights—it worked even on very subtle curves in the road, not just on tight curves. I wouldn’t say the feature was distracting, per se, but it was unusual for us. I’m sure it’s the kind of thing we would have gotten used to and not even noticed after a while.

The Forester’s fuel economy is 24 MPG city/32 MPG highway, for a combined MPG of

Car Seats and Kids

Preview: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica- Kids, Carseats & Safety

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Pacifica stockWhen CarseatBlog visited the Chicago Auto Show, we wanted to be sure to get a look at the all-new Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

The Pacifica isn’t an update of the existing Town & Country, and it’s not a revamp of the crossover Pacifica SUV/Wagon that was discontinued more than 10 years ago—it’s a completely new vehicle with a brand new look.  If you read about our little mishap, you might have the wrong impression that we were not excited by this new minivan.  To be fair, we saw a prototype at a media event and we are actually very encouraged that this should be a big improvement in terms of safety and carseat installation.

The Pacifica will be available in 7- and 8-passenger models. In both models, there are full sets of LATCH in both second-row captains chairs, and also two full sets of LATCH in the third row (more on that in a minute).  In the 8-passenger model (below, left), the center seat in the second row also has a top tether anchor.  The 7-passenger model can be configured with an aisle in the center of the 2nd row (below, right).  Sliding doors with wide openings are a given.

Pacifica 2nd center seatbelt Pacifica 2nd Tilt

Now, let’s talk about those two sets of LATCH in the third row. That sounds great, but it comes with a couple caveats. One set of LATCH is on the passenger outboard side, and appears to be pretty standard. That’s a nice improvement, too, over the Town & Country.

Pacifica 3rdThe other set of LATCH is offset between the center and driver’s outboard sides, meaning that if you installed a seat with LATCH there, you’d be using up two seating positions. (This is similar to the existing Town & Country setup.) On the plus side, that gives you plenty of room to put two seats back there. On the downside, you can only put two seats back there if you use that offset LATCH position. (You could use all three seatbelt positions, though, or install with LATCH on the passenger side and use the two seatbelts in the center and on the other side.)

The two tether anchors in the third row are designed for use with the seating positions that also have lower anchors, so there’s one for the outboard passenger side, and one that’s centered to align with that offset position. This means that particular tether anchor doesn’t align with the center or driver’s outboard seats when using a seatbelt. We don’t know whether Chrysler will allow the anchor to be used for those positions.

Pacifica offset latchThere’s one other potential downside to that offset LATCH position. Because it overlaps two regular seats, there’s a seatbelt buckle (for the driver’s side passenger) and a mini-connector (for the center seatbelt position) sitting smack-dab in the middle of the LATCH anchors. That means that a car seat would have to sit on top of the buckles. I thought for sure there would be a way to tuck them out of the way, but there wasn’t. I could kind of shove them in, but that actually created a bigger lump closer to the seat bight (photo right, tan).  Chrylser has since informed us that the display Pacifica was an older prototype third row seat configuration.  We have a photo of what will apparently be the improved final design for the third row belt layout with the buckles tucked away for LATCH installation of a carseat (below, light grey):

Pacifica New 3rd Row Bench

Photo courtesy of Chrysler

FullSizeRenderOne major complaint about the Town & Country is that the third row seatbelts often don’t fit well on kids in booster seats and kids big enough to be out of boosters. The belt might not make contact with their shoulders or torsos, which is a problem. We wanted to see if the Pacifica addressed that issue.

2016 Update: Safest Affordable Used Cars for Families and Teens

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Safest Used Cars for Teen Drivers under $10K

Many families put a high priority on safety for their kids.  Unfortunately, for various valid reasons, most are not able to go out and buy a brand new car with the latest safety features.  Perhaps others are buying a car for a teen or college student and want something safe, but don’t want them wrecking a new car!  Last year, the IIHS evaluated hundreds of cars to produce a list of models recommended for teens.

I have somewhat different criteria for my teen drivers.  For example, while I also exclude the smallest sub-compact and “micro” vehicles, I have no issue with my teen driving a compact sedan if it is above 2,750 lbs., as long is it has great crash test results.  While compact cars do give up a little in terms of weight in a frontal crash, they are generally more maneuverable and easier to handle and park.  That’s a big deal for new drivers.  And of course, compact cars are less expensive to buy and maintain.  I am also more concerned about having top results in all the actual crash tests, including the new IIHS small overlap test, and less concerned about certain other results.

Unfortunately, the IIHS excludes compact sedans from their list, even top performing models with many safety features and decent all-around crash test scores, including their own small overlap test.  In fact, some models they recommend do very poorly in this newer crash test.  Also, many of their recommendations are well over $10,000.

My Requirements?

  1. 4-star or better NHTSA overall rating
  2. No “2-star” or “1-star” ratings in any individual NHTSA crash test or rollover rating.
  3. No “Marginal” or “Poor” IIHS crash test results in ANY test, including the newer small overlap test
  4. Around $10,000 or less to buy.
  5. Good visibility and handling.
  6. Stability control and side-curtain airbags.
  7. No minicars, sub-compacts or any model below 2,750lbs.  Weight is a bad thing on roads, I know.  More mass means more kinetic energy and more wasted fuel.  But when the other guy is driving a 5,000 lb. truck, the smallest cars become splatter.

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