Latest Round of Takata Airbag Recalls Affects Oldest Vehicles Yet

There’s always a sense of exasperation that hangs in the air after each new mention Takata. Eleven years — that’s how long this recall has dragged on for. It’s almost a teenager. And Just when you start to think this rabbit hole of recalls could not go any deeper, your foot slips and you tumble a little further. It’s a road we’ve been down too many times, and by all indications the end of this Takata saga is still years away. 

The latest announcement from NHTSA, coming just days ago, appears to concern the oldest vehicles yet, with models manufactured as far back as 1995 — the same year as the Oklahoma City bombing. As a reference point, America’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism is darkly relevent. The primary explosive used was a form ammonium nitrate, a powerful — but more relevantly, deeply unstable — azide compound frequently utilized by the mining industry. Due to its cheap nature, it was also the propellant chosen by Takata to inflate its airbags. It’s those airbags that have long been the subject of these recalls.

In a surprising twist, the storyline of this latest recall diverges from that of its predecessors on one key point:  the affected airbags are instead inflated by a non-azide propellant; not ammonium nitrate. But the rest is more of the same:  these non-azide driver (NADI) inflators are still prone to deterioration over time, especially when exposed to moisture. The result:  another 4.5 million airbags at risk of under-inflating, exploding, or spraying a scattershot of shrapnel with the capacity to kill, adding to the more than 40 million recalled so far.

The NADI inflators were produced and sold worldwide from 1995 to 1999, NHTSA indicates in the safety recall report. However, “the number of Takata NADI inflators for vehicles sold in the United States is substantially smaller but … not precisely known at this time. Moreover, due to the age of the potentially affected vehicles, only a portion remain in service.” 

BMW is the first company so far to nail down its affected models, which includes 116,000 3-Series cars made between 1999 and 2001. The Los Angeles Times reports least 8,000 of these are known for certain to contain faulty inflators, and that these vehicles should be parked and not driven. The only other automakers with models affected in the U.S. are Audi, Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi. Cars from these makers were built between 1995 and 2000, but the exact models are as yet unknown.

Takata’s decision to favor cost over stability has so far been linked to the deaths of at least 29 people worldwide, and the injuries of hundreds more. To an automotive industry perennially starved for new, novel ways to cut costs, Takata’s cheap product was food for the Gods — Honda, Acura, and GM all placed orders. At least thirty other automakers would soon join them at the table:  Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Daimler, Dodge/Ram, Ferrari, Fisker, Ford, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

Ammonium nitrate is notoriously moisture averse, even more so than the non-azide propellant of this recall — an important fact overlooked when Takata’s Monclova, Mexico subsidiary was selected as the hotspot to manufacture the cheaper airbag inflators. Or, perhaps hotspot is a poor choice of words, because Monclova’s average annual temperature is 84 °F, and ammonium nitrate is not fond of heat either. In a confidential document submitted to Congress in 2015, Takata admitted that their airbags had “been left in work stations [sic] during a prolonged shutdown of the assembly line, exposing them to humidity inside the plant.”

But of course, that was just one type of propellant. This non-azide recall adds an intriguing new introduction to this ongoing saga. Takata began manufacturing airbags in 1988. Here’s hoping this prequel doesn’t turn into another failed trilogy.

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Check Out These References for Further Reading:

Deadly defect is found in another version of Takata air bags.” The New York Times. Retrieved 5 December 2019.

Part 573 Safety Recall Report.” NHTSA. Retrieved 5 December 2019.

Massive Takata Airbag Recall: Everything You Need to Know, Including Full List of Affected Vehicles.” Car and Driver. Retrieved 5 December 2019.

2019-12-10T10:10:04-08:00December 10th, 2019|Airbag Recall, Auto Recall, Recall|0 Comments