The Takata airbag that just keeps growing and growing, has more than doubled in scope with the inclusion of another 35-40 million inflators, although it does not spell out how many vehicles are added to the list, since the inflators are present in both front airbags.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the expansion and acceleration of the recall, adding to the already 28.8 million inflators previously recalled, on the confirmation that the root cause of the problem is the inflator’s propensity to rupture when compromised by moisture. If the inflator ruptures, metal shards are sprayed into the cabin with the deployment of the airbag. The problem is linked to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the US alone.
“Today’s action is a significant step in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s aggressive oversight of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers across America,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe.”
Under the expansion, all Takata inflators with ammonium nitrate propellant are to be replaced unless they include an chemical drying agent (desiccant) to counteract the moisture variable. The problem is compounded by time, age and environmental impact to degrade the inflator chemical and cause it to burn too quickly and rupture the inflator capsule. The desiccant absorbs moisture that may be present in the inflator and stops the degradation of the propellant. None of the incidents have been attributed to a desiccated inflator module, though Takata may still have to replace those modules if the company fails to provide proof they are indeed safe.
NHTSA has issued an Amended Consent Order to Takata ordering the company to make a series of safety defect decisions to support vehicle manufacturers’ recall campaigns, with compliance between now and December 2019.
The five recall phases over that time period are prioritized according to risk — the age of the inflators, exposure to high humidity and fluctuation of high temperatures, all of which are shown to accelerate the degradation of the propellant.
“The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “This recall schedule ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants. NHTSA will continue to evaluate all available research and will act quickly to protect safety.”
Although NHTSA has finally made a decision to recall all Takata inflators, it points out that the recall is already well under way, having consulted with three independent investigations in order to decisively determine the root cause of the inflator ruptures.
“NHTSA’s aggressive actions in 2015 means this recall is already a year ahead of where it would have been if the agency had waited for this research,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “As a result, all of the most dangerous inflators responsible for the deaths and injuries are already under recall.”
The Coordinated Remedy Order ensures that new inflators are made available to vehicles deemed most at risk, according to the list of factors above. An updated vehicle prioritization list is due for release in summer 2016, providing manufacturers with a schedule for procuring replacement modules and conducting repairs.
“Everyone plays a role in making sure that this recall is completed quickly and safely, including manufacturers, suppliers and vehicle owners themselves,” concluded Rosekind. “People who receive notification that there is a remedy available for their vehicle should act immediately to have their inflator fixed. All vehicle owners should regularly check SaferCar.gov for information about any open safety recall on their vehicle and what they can do to have it fixed free of charge.”
Vehicle owners can check if their vehicles are affected by the recall at icsw.nhtsa.gov/safercar/rs/takata/takatalist.html and clicking on the make of their vehicle, which will then expand to show the model and model years of affected vehicles.
NHTSA has also appointed an Independent Monitor to assess, track and report Takata’s compliance with the Consent Order and to oversee the Coordinated Remedy Program.
In November 2015, the company was slapped with a $200 million civil penalty for its refusal to acknowledge the problem and not disclosing information pertinent to the investigation. $70 million was due immediately and the remainder would be collected if Takata did not meet its commitments or if additional violations were discovered.