Airbag explosions: I-Team investigates delays on replacing recalled parts

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated air bag defects, and uncovered some potentially life-saving information. One woman turned to the I-Team after her airbags deployed - and she wasn't in an accident.

Airbag recalls involving millions of vehicles have caused big repair backlogs at dealerships. The I-Team found out how to deal with those delays, while investigating one woman's airbag explosions.

"I was just going 35 mph and just all of the sudden mine just went off," Mary Wisowaty said. "And I was just so scared."

The Lockport woman will never forget that terrifying day in September. At the time, she was driving her 2003 Jeep Liberty.

"All of the sudden, my airbag just pops and all of this smoke comes out... the passenger side does. So I steered the car and I put it on a side street," Wisowaty said.

She took photos of her burns on her hands and face. She says she was treated the next day at her family doctor and that she's now going to physical therapy for whiplash.

"It was terrifying and it's like I just lost a moment and I couldn't believe that it happened," she said.

She continued to drive the vehicle despite this safety recall notice- warning the airbags could inadvertently deploy. Wisowaty says she had no other way to get to work.

She says she called three different area dealers and they all told her that it would be several months for parts to come in.

On the phone, a Fiat Chrysler spokesperson acknowledged her case and said there have been overall delays.

Chrysler said: "launching a safety recall demands complex engineering and close coordination with NHTSA - sometimes well before an auto maker accumulates replacement parts." They added that parts were available for all customers by December.

But that was almost three months after Wisowaty's incident, and almost a year after the recall affecting more than 2 million vehicles and a half dozen brands.

It's not the Takata recall. Instead, it's one concerning components manufactured by the automotive supplier TRW. That company didn't respond to emails from the I-Team.

"Today the biggest single problem with air bag recalls is that parts aren't available," said Clarence Ditlow, Center for Auto Safety. "And any way you look at that that's a failure. People are driving at risk and it shouldn't be that way."

Ditlow points out that Chrysler's handling of this and 22 other recalls prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to take enforcement action. Chrysler agreed to repair vehicles, purchase some back and pay a $70 million civil penalty.

So what should you do if your dealership says they're waiting on parts?

"Insist that the manufacturer provide you with loaner car. If the manufacturer won't do that, you can consider taking out long-term rental until it is fixed, then take them to small claims court to get the cost of the rental," Ditlow said.

Fiat Chrysler says it will provide rental cars in those cases but wouldn't specifically comment on Wisowaty's case. She says dealerships she called never offered her one.

"I just don't know you know if I'll ever feel safe in a car again," she said.

Wisowaty says a Chrysler representative offered her $8,000 over the phone. She refused, saying she's looking for a larger payout for her vehicle and troubles.

If you are waiting on parts for a recall repair, you should ask your dealer and manufacturer for a rental car - but there are no laws requiring they provide one.

-Check with your mechanic and ask about recalls every time you go in for service or an oil change
-If your dealership does not give you rental car and you are waiting on recalled parts for a safety issue, call the manufacturer. We called and emailed several manufacturers. Only Chrysler and Nissan got back to the I-Team and said they DO provide rental cars in those circumstances.
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