DETROIT — Stellantis and the U.S. government are warning owners of 276,000 older vehicles to stop driving them after Takata airbags apparently exploded in three other vehicles, killing drivers.
The company, formerly Fiat Chrysler, is urging people not to drive 2005-2010 model year Dodge Magnums, Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars, and Chrysler 300 sedans.
Stellantis said it confirmed that the driver’s airbag inflators blew apart on two occasions, killing two drivers. In another case, the company suspects a gas generator rupture, in which a driver died. All three deaths occurred in warm-weather US states and occurred in 2010 model year vehicles within the past seven months, the company said.
The death toll brings the death toll from exploding Takata airbags to at least 32 worldwide, including 23 in the United States.
Takata used ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate airbags in a crash. But the chemical can become more volatile over time when exposed to moisture in the air and repeated exposure to high temperatures. The explosion can rupture a metal canister and throw splinters into the passenger compartment.
Most fatalities and injuries related to faulty airbags occurred in warmer states
Most of the deaths and about 400 injuries occurred in US states with warmer weather.
The Stellantis vehicles under the Do Not Drive warning were all recalled in 2015 and free repairs have been available since then. Stellantis said it has made numerous attempts to reach the owners, but the repairs have not been made. The recalls affect vehicles where the airbag inflators were not replaced as part of the recall.
“Unrepaired, recalled Takata airbags are becoming increasingly dangerous as the risk of an explosion increases as vehicles age,” said Ann Carlson, acting administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a statement. “Every day that passes that a recalled airbag is not replaced puts you and your family at greater risk of injury or death.”
On Thursday, the NHTSA urged all owners to check if their vehicles have an unrepaired Takata airbag recall. Drivers can go to https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls and enter their 17-digit vehicle identification number to see if they have any outstanding recalls.
The agency said even minor accidents can cause airbags to inflate, with the potential for explosions that can kill or injure people.
In its statement, NHTSA said it is aware of other suspected Takata inflator ruptures in vehicles made by other automakers. The agency says it is working with manufacturers to confirm the breaches, but would not provide further details.
Stellantis said any of its customers who are unsure whether their vehicles have been recalled can call (833) 585-0144. Owners can call the hotline to arrange for their cars to be towed to a dealership and alternative transportation, the company said.
Repairs typically take less than an hour, the company says.
The company said it has made 210 million attempts to reach owners with recalled Takata airbag inflators, including letters, courier items, emails, text messages, phone calls and home visits. The company has recalled nearly 2 million vehicles with Takata inflators.
In the three most recent cases in which people were killed, Stellantis says it has made 153 attempts to reach the owners.
The company “expresses its condolences to the families and friends of those affected by these incidents,” Stellantis said in a statement.
The potential for the dangerous malfunction led to the largest series of auto recalls in US history, with at least 67 million Takata inflators recalled. The US government says millions have not been repaired. Around 100 million gas generators have been recalled worldwide. The exploding airbags sent the Japanese company Takata Corp. into bankruptcy.
Most deaths were in the United States, but also in Australia and Malaysia.
The first fatality from a Takata inflator occurred in Oklahoma in 2009.