Takata adds 3.3 million air bag inflators to massive recall

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

DETROIT (WPRI/AP) — Takata, a Japanese airbag maker, is recalling an additional 3.3 million faulty airbags in one of the largest automotive recalls in United States history, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NHTSA said the airbags can explode when they deploy, causing serious injury or death. The phased recalls began in May 2016 and stemmed from previous Takata airbag incidents, including 20 reported deaths and 180 injuries worldwide.

According to the NHTSA, 34 million vehicles are under the recall for approximately 46 million defective airbags. Additional recalls are scheduled by December 2019, which will bring the total recalled airbags to approximately 65-70 million.

The recalls, which are being managed by NHTSA, are being phased in over the next three years. NHTSA is prioritizing the recalls, putting older models — those in “highest danger zones” — in the first priority group.

The latest recalls are part of the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history, with 19 automakers having to recall up to 69 million inflators in 42 million vehicles. The problem brought a criminal conviction and fine against Takata and forced the Japanese company into bankruptcy protection.

The most recent recalls cover frontal airbags in certain 2009, 2010 and 2013 vehicles made BY Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW, Daimler Vans, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar-Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Tesla. Automakers will provide specific models in paperwork that will be filed later this month with NHTSA.

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Takata uses the chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion and fill airbags quickly in a crash. NHTSA said the propellant in the inflators breaks down after long-term exposure to high-temperature fluctuations and humidity, which can cause the propellant to burn too quickly. This creates an abundance of pressure for the inflator and in extreme cases causes the inflator to explode, shooting shrapnel toward unsuspecting drivers and passengers.

Many automakers have been slow to replace the potentially deadly inflators. A report by an independent monitor said that as of Sept. 15, 2017, automakers have recalled 43.1 million inflators. Of those, only 18.5 million, or 43 percent, have been replaced even though Takata recalls began in 2001.

NHTSA has said the Takata recalls are unprecedented in size and complexity and have resulted in groundbreaking lessons that will help automakers reach their repair goals. The agency said it is monitoring the automakers’ progress and working to expand best practices to boost completion rates. The agency also has the authority to fine automakers that don’t make recall repairs in a timely manner.

NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers are urging the public to get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible, saying the recall repair will be free.