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Exploding airbags lead to largest ever car recall

20 May 2015

Thirty-three million potentially defective airbags are being recalled in most widespread car and truck safety alert in world history. This is double the number originally involved in the recall, and comes after US regulators put pressure on Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. to extend the scope of its original recall operation.

Stock image
Stock image

The chemical that inflates theThe faulty inflators have been responsible for six deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide. Takata's air bags use ammonium nitrate to inflate in a crash but the chemical, which can be used to make bombs, is volatile. So far, testing has found that airborne moisture can get into the inflators and cause the ammonium nitrate to burn hotter than it should, causing the airbag to explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal inflator and sending shrapnel into the passenger compartment. 

The announcement was made on May 19 by the heads of the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which reached an agreement with Takata after sparring with the company for the past year over the size of the recalls and the cause of the problem.

Eleven carmakers, including Honda and Toyota, have recalled 17 million vehicles in the US and more than 36 million worldwide because of the problem. It is unclear which manufacturers will be most affected by the expansion of the recall.

In a statement, Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada said 'We are pleased to have reached this agreement with NHTSA, which presents a clear path forward to advancing safety and restoring the trust of automakers and the driving public.

'We have worked extensively with NHTSA and our automaker customers over the past year to collect and analyze a multitude of testing data in an effort to support actions that work for all parties and, most importantly, advance driver safety.'

On Feb. 20, NHTSA began fining Takata $14,000 per day for failing to fully cooperate in the investigation. That fine accrued to more than $1.2 million before Takata agreed to cooperate, NHTSA officials said. Other civil penalties are still possible, they added.

It likely will be months or longer before Takata and other companies can manufacture all the needed replacement inflators. Inflators will be allocated to older cars and to high-humidity areas first, where people are most at risk, the agency said. The expansion will cost Takata millions of dollars.

Transportation Secretary Mark Foxx said in a Tuesday statement 'Today is a major step forward for public safety. The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.'

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said investigations by the agency and auto industry haven't determined precisely what's causing Takata's inflators to explode, but said the agency cannot wait for a cause to take action.

'We know that owners are worried about their safety and the safety of their families,' he said. 'This is probably the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history.'



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