Takata Agrees to Mass Airbag Recall

Takata Lobby

Image courtesy of Takata

Takata Agrees to Mass Airbag Recall
| published May 20. 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

By almost all official and unofficial estimates it is the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, and it will affect more than 34 million vehicles in the United States—or roughly one fifth of all passenger cars and SUVs on the road.

After more than a year of wrangling with regulators, investigators and safety officials—at the state and local levels—and after at least 18 months of growing legal action by attorneys and plaintiffs seeking rewards for injuries and death, a major auto parts supplier is recalling millions of airbags which are at risk of exploding with too much force during an impact.

Under certain conditions not yet fully understood by engineers and investigators, the airbags systems can overheat—causing a violent internal explosion which sends small shards of metal rocketing through the car. The Japanese supplier which makes the affected airbags, Takata Corporation, now says it believes that changes in humidity—or possibly high levels of humidity—can trigger the problem, a defect which has caused more than 100 injuries and has resulted in at least six deaths.

Tests have been conducted in a dozen controlled labs, but so far those engineers and investigators have found a definitive cause of the explosions. Most of the airbags deploy safely, but in recent testing in the U.S. out of 20 bags tested, three experienced a violent explosion which sent fragments of metal hurtling at potentially lethal speeds. The problem can affect the driver side and passenger side air bag deployment, and the short version of the defect is this: a high pressure canister inside the airbag system is known to be the catalyst for the explosions, and it is shrapnel from this steel container which can cause injury and death.

Takata—which also makes steering columns, seat belts, side-panel airbags, and dozens of other components—has long fought agreeing to a recall, and only months ago even acknowledged that the airbag systems were, in fact, truly defective. Takata has blamed faulty installment by the automakers that use the Takata airbag products. Most of the defective airbag systems can be found on many models of Honda vehicles, as well as certain models of BMW, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Toyota, and Subaru. The original problem may date back as far as 2001. This week, Tanaka finally agreed to a full recall after numerous meetings and negotiations with regulators in the United States.

The recall is the biggest since Ford’s 1980 problems with transmissions which could inadvertently slip into reverse, and the most attention-getting since GM’s massive problem with ignition switch failures in 2013-2014.

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