Those first-generation, or "alpha," inflators pose an increased risk because the propellant can deteriorate quickly in high heat and humidity. Experts have estimated that these inflators have a 50 percent chance of exploding when a deployment is triggered. High sales volumes and long-lasting vehicles mean many older Accords, Civics and CR-Vs are still on the road with alpha inflators.
Honda estimates that about 130,000 unrepaired vehicles with alpha inflators remain on the road.
John Buretta, the attorney monitoring the Takata recall on NHTSA's behalf, has pushed Honda to try new remedies in high-risk climate areas.
In the U.S., 11.4 million Hondas and Acuras have been recalled, and the number will continue to rise as NHTSA expands the program on a rolling basis based on the vehicle's age and geographic location. Early replacement inflators also will have to be replaced with updated versions that contain a moisture retardant. Honda so far has repaired 11.3 million airbags, or 64 percent of the affected parts — a much higher completion rate than any other large manufacturer — according to agency data. And the company says it has completed 75 percent of repairs for the alpha inflators.
Florida is ground zero for the alpha inflator danger because it is a high-humidity state with a large population of Honda and Acura vehicles. Company officials say there has been a concerted effort to reach owners through reminder letters and phone calls, but responsiveness continues to lag that in other states. At Honda's request, the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles in summer 2016 sent letters to Honda-identified owners alerting them about the problem and urging them to go to a dealership for the free repair.
"Our theory was that having the imprimatur of the state might serve as motivation," Edward Cohen, Honda's vice president of government and industry relations, said.
Frustrated by the difficulty of reaching second and third owners who are unaware their vehicles have been recalled, Honda officials began exploring ways to leverage state registration and inspection systems as a touch point.
They found a willing partner in Lucinda Babers, the director of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles. When approached about a letter campaign like the one in Florida, Babers proposed an additional idea: Invite owners for an appointment to get an emissions inspection and airbag repair at the same time. Honda would provide technicians to replace the inflators and the DMV would provide staff to do inspections on a Monday — normally an off day.
The district requires vehicles to pass emissions inspections every two years. There are no dealerships in the city, so all residents must take their cars to the DMV's inspection station.
Honda supplied the vehicle identification numbers of vehicles with alpha inflators and the DMV ran those against vehicles with inspections due within 90 days.
Sixteen people received invitation letters, and five responded. In addition to taking care of two chores at once, they didn't have to wait in line for what is normally first-come, first-serve inspection service.
On the day of the event in April, Honda offered coffee and doughnuts and checked the VIN to determine the exact inflator the vehicle needed. Technicians from Rosenthal Landmark Honda in nearby Alexandria, Va., did the work.