On the home page of www.safercars.gov, a website produced by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Association [NHTSA], the headline these days is an update on the recall of airbags manufactured by Takata Corporation, an automotive parts company based in Japan. The focus is echoed by top listing on the same page of the link ‘Recalls Spotlight’. This links to a sub-page with two links: ‘Takata Air Bag Recalls’ and ‘Chrysler Recalls’. Road Rules highly recommends investigating these links.
At ‘Chrysler Recalls,’ you may be surprised by the announcement that, “At least 11 million cars and trucks built by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), including Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles, are currently subject to a recall.” Click on ‘Vehicles Affected’ and then ‘By Recall’ to retrieve the 23-item list of problems, each in turn followed by the affected FCA vehicles.
For a while, this substantial number, the range and risk severity of the defects, and FCA’s issues in dealing with regulators centred FCA in the ‘recall spotlight.’ But with, at latest count, 69 million vehicles needing airbag replacements—“the largest automotive recall in American history”— centre stage is now almost fully occupied by Takata Corporation.
In early May of this year, the Takata recall was back in the headlines because of an expansion by another 35 to 40 million vehicles of the already massive recall—in effect doubling it. The list of vehicle manufacturers has also continued to grow, now including Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Jaguar-Land Rover, and Karma (formerly Fisker). Basically, with this expansion, “almost one out of every seven cars in America” is under an airbag recall. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Takata problem is also one of the FCA listed items.
Numerous investigations seem to concur that, over time, exposure to heat and humidity of the main ingredient of the propellant in the airbag inflator, the chemical ammonium nitrate, causes it to degrade. This degradation can cause a too-quick burn, creating more pressure than the inflator can withstand and, in extreme cases, rupturing it. It is reported that the ruptured bits may rip through the air bag like shrapnel blasting into the front seat occupants.
So far, at least 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries have been reported worldwide in relation to airbag defects – a sad account for sure but not a devastating worldwide statistic. Authorities in Malaysia are currently investigating two more recent deaths in cars with allegedly ruptured Takata air bags. Honda is reported as saying that the inflators (may have?) spewed metal fragments in the crashes, but whether this caused the deaths has not yet been finally determined. If so, the worldwide death toll will rise to 13.
Given this understanding of the problem, the latest iteration of the recall schedule is based on vehicle location and age. ‘Takata Recall Expansion: What Consumers Need to Know’ can be found online at http://www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/takata-explainer.html. At least 1.3 million Canadian cars are currently estimated to be affected. We urge our readers to check the links in this article and to contact the manufacturer of their vehicle regarding this whole issue.
All of this of course has to be looked at in the context of the benefits that airbags have delivered over the past two decades.