On May 23, 1995, during “Buckle Up America Week”, DOT Secretary Federico Pena and NHTSA Administrator Dr. Ricardo Martinez announced the second largest recall in the 30 year history of the Department of Transportation (DOT), affecting 8,428,402 predominantly Japanese vehicles made between 1986-91 with seat belts manufactured by the Takata Corporation of Japan. (NHTSA Recall No. 95V-103.) In addition to the recalls, many of the individual Japanese automobile manufacturers agreed to issue life warranties for seatbelts in their vehicles.
The recall was prompted by an investigation (PE94-052) conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Takata-equipped Honda vehicles, where their owners complained of seat belt buckles either failing to latch, latching and releasing automatically, or releasing in accidents. The Honda investigation revealed that Takata seat belts were not limited only to Honda vehicles, but to other Japanese imports as well. NHTSA opened up a second investigation on Takata seatbelts broadly (EA94-036) as well as individual investigations on the vehicle manufacturers using Takata seat belts to determine the magnitude of the defect.
The Takata investigation was only limited to the front seat belt buckles and to the 52X and A7X models. Through investigation, it was determined that a total of 11 manufacturers are effected by the investigation. Japanese models sold in the United States by American Honda Motor Co., Isuzu Motors of America Inc., Mazda Motor of America Inc., Nissan North America, Daihatsu Motor Co., American , Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. and Subaru of America Inc. were also with the seat belt buckles. Moreover, Chrysler, General Motors and Ford all had various models manufactured by Japanese companies with the seat belt buckle, but sold under American names such as the Dodge Stealth and the Go series (except Prizm) under General Motors. Ford has vehicles such as the Probe manufactured by Mazda on its’ MX-6 platform and the Festiva made by Kia in South Korea, but engineered by Mazda that have the seat belts. However, unlike Chrysler and General Motors, Ford did not admit that their seat belts could be defective.
The number of vehicle models affected by the recall are as follows:
Manufacturer Number of NHTSA Recall
Year/Make/Model Vehicles Investigation
CHRYSLER 920,000 Recall 95V-103003
1986-91 Dodge Colt PE94-093
1990-91 Dodge Laser
1990-91 Eagle Talon
1987-89 Dodge Raider
1986-91 Dodge Ram, Ram 50
1991 Dodge Stealth
1989-91 Eagle Summit
FORD 265,000 Recall 95V-103011
1988-91 Ford Festiva PE95-013
1987-89 Mercury Tracer
GENERAL MOTORS 466,902 Recall 95V-103007
1989-91 Go Metro EA95-014
1990-91 Go Storm PE94-092
1989-91 Go Tracker
HONDA 3,703,814 Recall 95V-103001
1986-91 Honda Civic EA94-035
1986-91 Honda Prelude PE94-052
1986-91 Acura Integra
1986-90 Acura Legend
1991 Acura SX
ISUZU 89,902 Recall 95V-103009
1990-91 Isuzu Impulse EA95-009
1990-91 Isuzu Pickup PE94-085
1991 Isuzu Rodeo
MAZDA 360,433 Recall 95V-103005
1988-89 Mazda 323 EA95-005
1988-89 Mazda 323 Wagon PE94-081
1988-91 Mazda 929
1988-89 Mazda MX-6
1988-91 Mazda MPV
MITSUBISHI 658,000 Recall 95V-103004
1991 Mitsubishi 3000GT EA95-004
1986-88 Mitsubishi Cordia PE94-080
1990-91 Mitsubishi Eclipse
1986-87 Mitsubishi Galant
1986-91 Mitsubishi Mirage
1986-91 Mitsubishi Montero
1986-91 Mitsubishi Pickup
1988-90 Mitsubishi Sigma
1986 Mitsubishi Starion
1987-90 Mitsubishi Van/Wagon
NISSAN 2,012,472 Recall 95V103002
1990-91 Infiniti Q45, M30 EA95-007
1987-88 Nissan 200SX PE94-083
1989-91 Nissan 240SX
1988-91 Nissan Pathfinder
1987-91 Nissan Sentra
1988-91 Nissan Truck (D21)
1987-90 Nissan Van (C22)
SUBARU 101,005 Recall 95V-103006
1987-91 Subaru Justy EA95-008
1988-90 Subaru Loyale PE94-084
SUZUKI 115,874 Recall 95V103008
1988-91 Suzuki Samari EA95-006
1989-91 Suzuki Sidekick PE94-082
1989-91 Suzuki Swift
* Not included in recall, but contain Takata seatbelts
Some Japanese auto manufacturers, asserted that the reason for the failure of the seat belts is not due to design, but the lifestyle of the user, i.e. contaminants such as water and soft drinks getting in to the button mechanism were the cause of the failure. The nine month investigation by NHTSA concluded that the cause of the defect was that the buckles were made of ABS plastic. Through exposure to ultraviolet light over a period of time, the plastic became brittle and pieces fell off, causing a jamming of the release button mechanism.
The manufacturers have agreed to conduct a voluntary recall. The completion rates for the Takata recall did not go well. Two years after Takata announced its recall of defective front seat belts, most of the vehicles involved were still awaiting repair. In a 1997 press release, NHTSA expressed concern about the low recall rate. Only 18% of the 8.9 million cars and trucks with the Takata belt buckle had been repaired.
In addition, NHTSA assessed a $50,000 civil penalty against both Honda and Takata for failing to notify the agency about the seat belt defect in a timely manner. Honda was fined because NHTSA believed the company knew about the hazard at least five years before the recall, but never reported the problem to NHTSA nor offered to conduct a voluntary recall. The following is a summary of the action taken by each manufacturer.
CHRYSLER: Chrysler agreed to replace any buckles whether or not they are broken. A lifetime warranty applies to Chrysler automobiles for any seat belt malfunction that is not the result of an accident or user abuse.
DAIHATSU: Daihatsu will replace both front seatbelt buckle assemblies on 1990 and 1991 Daihatsu vehicles with assemblies that have release buttons made of POM plastic rather than ABS plastic.
FORD: Ford agreed to inspect and replace any damaged front seat belt buckle assemblies manufactured by Takata. Buckles with a certain date code will be fitted with a protective guide. If either or both release buttons are cracked, broken or do not operate properly, both buckle assemblies will be replaced. Ford will extend a lifetime warranty covering Takata seatbelt malfunction.
GENERAL MOTORS: GM agreed to replace the release button with spring and install a new buckle housing for all belt buckles. However any buckle assemblies which do not function properly will be replaced.
HONDA: Honda agreed to replace any damaged buckles or those buckles which fail to operate safely free of charge. If the front buckle assembly is in good condition, Honda will install a “Seat Belt Buckle Guide.” A lifetime warranty applies to Honda automobiles for any seat belt malfunction that is not the result of an accident or user abuse.
ISUZU: Isuzu agreed to repair or replace all broken buckles and to modify undamaged buckles. On the Impulse and Stylus the dealer will install the “Takata Button kit” unless chips or dirt require heavy cleaning in which case the seat belt assembly will be replaced. On the Rodeo and Pickup Truck the dealer will install two “Takata Guide Plates” for both the driver and passenger seats. If a button is cracked or chipped a button will be installed. The seat belt assembly will be replaced only if the cracked button chips or dirt in the buckle would require heavy cleaning work.
MAZDA: Mazda agreed to replace any broken or damaged front seat belt assemblies with modified assemblies. If there was no sign of damage Mazda agreed to modify the seat belt assembly by installing a “Seat Belt buckle Guide” to prevent future breakage. A lifetime warranty will cover all components of the front seat belt assemblies manufactured by Takata.
MITSUBISHI: Mitsubishi agreed to replace any damaged buckles or those buckles which fail to operate safely. If the buckle shows no sign of damage owners will receive notification advising them to schedule an appointment with their dealer to have a “repair kit” installed. A lifetime warranty applies to Mitsubishi automobiles for any seat belt malfunction.
NISSAN: Nissan agreed to replace any buckles whether or not they are broken. The replacement button will be made of POM plastic. A lifetime warranty applies to Nissan automobiles (beginning in the 1989 model year).
SUBARU: Subaru agreed to replace the seat belt buckle assembly where the buckle is damaged. If there was no sign of buckle damage Subaru agreed to modify the seat belt assembly by installing a “Seat Belt Buckle Guide” to prevent future breakage. Subaru agreed to extend a lifetime warranty to all components of the front seat belt assemblies manufactured by Takata.
SUZUKI: Suzuki agreed to replace the red release button in all vehicles with the defective seat belt buckle. A lifetime warranty applies to Suzuki automobiles for any seat belt malfunction.