High schooler Huma Hanif was one of at least 16 killed by faulty Takata airbags, most in the U.S..

In 2008, Honda announced the recall of 4,000 older Accord and Civic models equipped with potentially faulty airbags that could malfunction during a crash. Today, that has grown into a cross-industry recall covering more than 42 million vehicles on U.S. roads.

Because Takata airbag inflators can malfunction during a crash, spewing shrapnel into the passenger compartment, the problem has so far been linked to at least 16 deaths, most of them in the U.S., along with more than 100 injuries. Yet, only slightly more than a third of the affected vehicles have been repaired.

Is your vehicle carrying around one of these potential time bombs? How can you find out and what can you do if that car, truck or crossover is on a recall list? Who will pay? And what do you do if your Takata airbag did malfunction? Here are some things to consider now that Takata has declared bankruptcy and been sold to Chinese-owned Key Safety Systems:

(Breaking news: Takata declares bankruptcy. Assets sold to Key Safety Systems. Click Herefor the latest details.)

What causes the problem with Takata airbags? The problem was originally blamed on a manufacturing defect that was thought to make the airbags’ inflators prone to malfunction in warm, high humidity climates. It now appears the pyrotechnic chemical they use, ammonium nitrate, also tends to break down and misfire as it ages.

What can happen if a Takata airbag does malfunction? It can over-inflate, sending plastic and metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment, potentially injuring or killing anyone near the airbag.

When a Takata airbag malfunctions it can spew metal and plastic shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

Where are these airbags used and how many are there? All told, about 70 million potentially faulty Takata airbags were installed in 42 million American cars, trucks and crossovers. Some vehicles have several of the devices but, most commonly, they are mounted in the steering wheel, putting the driver most at risk.

How many recalled vehicles have so far been repaired? Takata says 70% of those in Japan have been repaired, but U.S. regulators say the number is barely 38% here.

Why so few? In part, because the recall tends to cover older vehicles that have been traded in, often several times, making it difficult to find and notify owners. There has also been a shortage of replacement parts. Regulators are hoping the Takata sale will speed up availability of new inflators.

How do I know if my vehicle has one of these killer airbags? Automakers like Honda, General Motors and others using Takata airbags have tried repeatedly to find and reach out to owners, but you could be someone they missed. To make sure if you’re on the Takata list – and to find out if you might be subject to another safety recall – go either to the website operated by your vehicle’s manufacturer or to SaferCar.gov, operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Either way, you’ll find a link to a recall database. Enter your vehicle’s VIN, or Vehicle Information Number, which can be found on your registration form or on a placard bolted to the instrument panel and visible through the car’s windshield.

(Former FBI Chief Mueller out as head of Takata victims’ fund. Click Here to learn why.)

My car is subject to the Takata recall. Now what? The first step is to call your dealer or another one representing that brand and set up a repair appointment. The work is free and shouldn’t take long.

Unfortunately, there has been a shortage of replacement parts and manufacturers have been focusing on older vehicles operated in higher-risk regions, such as Southern Florida, so some owners have been told they will have to wait. Vehicles less than a decade old generally don’t face a critical risk though even relatively new models can have an airbag malfunction, so don’t put off a repair that could save your live or that of someone you love.

My Takata airbag malfunctioned. What do I do? In many cases there have been no injuries or just minor ones. But others have been killed or seriously maimed. Either way, report your experience on the NHTSA website and you may then want to consider seeking legal help. A search of the Web will help you locate attorneys handling Takata-related cases.

Takata also has set up a victims’ compensation fund. Again, you can search online for more information about the fund but you almost certainly would be advised to seek legal guidance before applying for compensation once the fund is fully up and running.

(Takata pleads guilty to federal criminal charges, sets up victims fund. Click Here for the story.)

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