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Major auto manufacturer offers longer hours, incentives to fix airbags

TAMPA — With nearly 200,000 people around Tampa Bay still driving around with defective airbags that could kill them, a major automaker is trying to dramatically cut that number down this week.

Fiat Chrystler Automobiles U.S. has launched Airbag Recall Repair Week, offering Chrystler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram Truck drivers the option to schedule appointments to repair the affected Takata airbags for free. It runs through Dec. 17.

"The need for repairs is urgent," FCA US said in a release. "When these faulty airbags explode, they could spray metal fragments into the vehicle, causing serious injury or even death."

Participating dealers are extending their hours this week, including Sundays, to accommodate as many repairs as possible. Some are offering incentives for drivers who come in for repairs, such as being dropped off at a mall to do holiday shopping while they wait for their car.

Takata-brand airbags are the subject of the largest automotive recall in history. A defective inflater causes the airbags to expand with too much force, ripping apart a metal canister and shooting debris at the car’s occupants. About 16 people have died as a result, and 180 were injured.

As of Dec. 1, there are 175,000 unrepaired vehicles in Tampa Bay affected by the recall, FCA US said, as well as 1.3 million in Florida and 34 million nationally.

Related coverage: Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags>

Sen. Bill Nelson has been urging Floridians to come in and have their vehicles repaired. But consumers have been slow to bring in their vehicles, which Nelson previously blamed on the lack of leadership at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"At the rate we’re going, we might land humans on Mars before all of these deadly inflators are off the road," Nelson said in June.

To find out if your vehicle is affected by a recall, visit ChecktoProtect.org. Those with Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler and Ram vehicles can see if they are affected by a recall and schedule appointments for repairs at recalls.mopar.com.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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