National Highway Traffic Safety Administration described the potential impact of defective Takata airbags as a "grenade" and a "ticking time bomb." Photo courtesy of NHTSB
Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Fewer than half of the millions of airbags recalled by Japanese company Takata have been replaced in the largest auto-safety recall in U.S. history.
A report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month said only 19.6 million of the 41.8 million airbags -- about 47 percent -- were repaired by the end of October. About 34 million U.S. vehicles were affected.
The recalls affected cars from 19 companies outfitted with airbags made by the bankrupt Takata.
The NHTSA reported the faulty airbags are linked to 13 deaths and more than 180 injuries.
In its report, the NHTSA describes the recall as the "largest and most complex vehicle recalls in U.S. history. ... The words 'grenade' and 'ticking time bomb' accurately convey the lethal potential of the defective inflators."
The NHTSA said the airbags, instead of properly inflating to cushion the victim and avoid injury, detonated in an explosion that "tore apart its steel inflator housing and sprayed high-velocity metal shards at the victim."
People suffered fatal injuries to the head, spine and lacerations caused extreme blood loss.
The agency noted that manufacturers have enhanced their efforts to fix the affect bags as repair rates have "doubled or even tripled" over the years.
By the end of October, some cary companies had completed more than half of the recall. They included Tesla (78.6 percent), Honda/Acura (64.8 percent) and Subaru (50.2 percent). The worst completion rates included Mercedes-Benz (2.2 percent), Mitsubishi (23 percent) and Mazda (27.1 percent).
Honda, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota had the most recalls.
Honda had 17.7 million inflators installed in 11.4 million Hondas and Acuras. The company has repaired 11.4 million inflators.
In an effort to contact consumers, Honda has gone door-to-door finding owners who have not responded to mailings and has begun using Facebook to send warnings to car owners.
In all, the company said it has made 150 million attempts to contact customers.
"On the parts side, we've been in pretty good shape for a while," Honda spokesman Chris Martin told the Detroit News. He was referring to early shortages of parts, which discouraged some owners from taking their cars to dealers.
Honda also said it has removed about 80,000 dangerous air bags from salvage yards.
At Chrysler, about 8.7 million inflators were impacted by the recall, and Chris Freeman, Takata campaign manager for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, said his company has completed 49 percent of its highest-priority repairs.
"We're not in any way parts-challenged," Freeman told the Detroit News. "We're not turning customers away because of any parts issue."
Toyota has completed about 68 percent of its repairs for the top-three highest-priority groups as identified by federal regulators, Victor Vanov, a spokesman for Toyota, told the Detroit News. About 5 million Toyotas were impacted by the recall.
"For us, we have the parts, it's just a matter of getting folks to come and get it replaced," he said. "We have a steady flow of parts coming in, it's just a matter of getting customers to come in and get the repairs done, which takes less than an hour."