A Subversive meme in Barney and Clyde

November 30, 2016

This Barney and Clyde strip appeared November 29, 2016.  How it caused a few minutes’ anxiety for the service manager of a local Toyota dealership is a tale possibly worth recounting.

Barney and Clyde is one of my favourite Arcamax Publications online offerings.  The strip often sends me to Google to track down obscure facts and theories I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

In this strip I had a good idea that Samsung owns the notoriety associated with the exploding Galaxy 7 Smartphone, but I had to look up Takata.

The horror story of the 17 year-old girl bleeding to death from a shrapnel cut from a prematurely detonating air bag in a Honda Civic definitely caught my attention.  Of course Google provided many references to track down the car models into which the potentially defective airbags had been installed.

On a US government site I ran through the family fleet.  My models of Porsche, Lexus, and Toyota do not have Takata airbags.  My mother’s 2008 Scion xB, a Florida purchase, was the only one which appeared on the list.  I plugged in the VIN.  Yep, it has the bad airbag.

Toyota/Lexus Canada is very good at maintaining contact with their owners, but this car came from a Florida auction to a local Honda dealer, and then was sold off his used car lot. I would need to register the car in Canada for the recall.

I called Kingston Toyota and spoke to the service manager.  Impressive acceleration there. Over the course of a few halting sentences of dialogue while he no doubt searched his computer, he went from zero knowledge on the subject to enough information to at least sound competent and book the car for a recall a month later.

The only evidence that he was scrambling to get his feet under him was the question:  “How did you hear about this?”

“It was in Barney and Clyde, a comic strip.”

Ten minutes later he called me back.  Toyota has no plans yet for a recall, though that may change in the next few weeks.  I responded that because I was essentially removing the family pool vehicle from service for a month, perhaps I should hold onto the appointment and confirm a day or two in advance of the date.  He agreed that that would be a good strategy.

I asked how big a risk the exploding ignitor on the airbag presents to occupants of the car, and if it would be better simply to disable the device.  He advised against that, but suggested that the car would be fine to drive in the interim as long as no one sits in the passenger seat.  An empty seat disables the airbag.

So I left it.

Then I called my sister who has been using the car to ferry Mom around.  She appeared uncharacteristically calm about my warning.  She also knew  considerably more about the Takata SNAFU than I did.

She owns a Honda Element.  Her recall notification caught up with her last January at her winter residence in Florida.  After many conversations with “a highly intelligent woman at the Honda hot-line over six months,” in early July her relieved Ottawa dealer gained access to an airbag and repaired her Honda Element.  “The problem at that time was that half the airbags in the world needed to be replaced, all at the same time, and all from the same company.  They were in short supply.  Perhaps they have the shortage under control by now, a year later.”  She further told me that she had simply shut off the airbag with the ignition key and gone about her business as usual.  She saw no reason not to do the same with the Scion.

I guess you can get used to anything if you have a bit of time to adjust to it.  That’s pretty much the central thesis of the Barney and Clyde comic strip, come to think of it.

UPDATE:  1 January, 2017

The December 29th recall appointment came and went.  Toyota Canada still can’t provide the airbag.  The service manager strongly suggested that I bring the Scion in for another recall on the master power window switch, though.  I asked how the problem manifested itself.  Apparently the master switch becomes sticky and some handymen spray it with penetrating oil, creating an alarming fire when the circuit is next closed in the presence of the volatile liquid.  I suggested I’d keep the WD-40 away from window switches and would get both jobs done when they inform me that they have the air bag.

That’s when things got interesting.  Seems I need to provide a recall letter from Scion USA, and they don’t have my address, so if I want things to proceed, I should call their 1-800 number and get on the list.  Oh.  I dialled, and on the third try spoke to a very helpful woman who carefully took down the VIN, my contact details, and again informed me that Toyota has no replacement air bags yet, but they’ll send me a letter when one becomes available.  She further warned me about the window switch recall and we parted friends.



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