What Can I do About the Subaru Airbag Recall?

Hi John,

Just after your opinion on the fact that this car, Subaru Liberty GT, like many Subarus is subject to the recall regarding the airbag/s potentially launching pieces of metal into my family's faces, but Subaru has no idea the airbag might be replaced, nor will the dealership (as I understand it, under Australian law) remove or disable the airbag to reduce the risk of injury caused by what should be a safety device. What do you recommend I do?


Hello Robert,

Fair enough concern. I understand why you are worried.

More than 100 million Takata airbags are being replaced globally. Obviously it is going to take significant time. (Nobody has a spare parts inventory approaching that. Where would you put it?)

However, I really think you need to take a deep breath and banish these nutty notions like disconnecting the airbags. You’re (understandably) grossly over-dramatising the actual danger. Here’s why:

In its own testing of 30,000 re called airbags, Takata (the manufacturer) found 265 to be defective. If that’s a representative sample, then the actual defect rate is 0.9%. You could ballpark it as 1 in every 100 recalled airbags. (‘Defective’ doesn’t mean ‘would have killed or injured you’. It means ‘may have killed or injured you’. It actually means ‘outside what are considered conservatively safe operating parameters’.)

So, given that airbags deploy only if your life is already at considerable risk, it’s nuts to disconnect the airbags - because there’s a 99 per cent chance the full lifesaving potential of the airbag will be realised without any adverse effect. (Remember: if an airbag deploys, you are already having a near-death, or life-ending, experience.) Airbags do not deploy - ever - in trivial crashes.

More on the mad science of saving your life in a crash >>

Disconnecting the airbag dramatically increases the risk to you and your family in a serious crash.

The rather grim calculus of this recall is that there have been only 15 deaths worldwide from a total of more than 100 million recalled airbags. In the scheme of risk present in life, this one is not even on the radar. (The risk of being in an airbag deployment crash is already monumentally low, if you’re a responsible driver, multiplied by a 1% chance of the airbag being defective, multiplied by the lower chance of actually being hit by its shrapnel, and then you really need to take out of the proposition the crashes that would have been unsurvivable anyway…) You do 100 far riskier things every day, guaranteed.

If you really hate the thought, despite the above logic, sell the car. (It wouldn’t worry me at all, owning a car subject to this recall, by the way.)

John Cadogan

See also: When robot cars kill >>
Subaru Liberty review >>
Independent Safety assessments at ANCAP >>