The Takata airbag recall—extending to 19 vehicle manufacturers, 50 million vehicles in the US with 10 million more scheduled for recall in January 2019, and 5 million in Canada—remains the largest in history.
While Takata, the Japanese manufacturer of the airbag, took some time to identify the cause, a recent report from Associated Press confirms that the chemical ammonium nitrate, which creates the small explosion that inflates the airbags, can degrade when exposed over time to humidity and temperature change cycles. This degradation causes a too-quick burn, creating, in extreme cases, more pressure than the inflator can withstand causing it to rupture. The ruptured bits rip through the air bag like shrapnel blasting into the front seat occupants
Reportedly, at least 23 people have been killed worldwide and hundreds injured. The inflators most at risk are in areas of high humidity. Takata is currently under bankruptcy protection and has sold most of its assets to pay for the fixes, which also took time to develop.
Since first reporting the story in May 2013, Road Rules followed developments in six more articles, the latest addressing the lag in consumer response to the recall. In late December 2018, an annual report on the US recall released by the US government and a court-appointed recall monitor indicates one third of the recalled inflators have still not been replaced.
Monitor John Buretta has been quoted as saying 16.7 million faulty inflators out of the 50 million under recall have yet to be replaced, which—and safety advocates concur—is too many, given the danger associated with the inflators. This could be the result of ‘foot-dragging’ by consumers, but also auto manufacturers, and even government regulators.
Progress, however, has been made. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reports recall repair rates across all 19 companies have increased 30% during the year, and in the highest risk humid areas, the number of unrepaired inflators was halved. Despite this, however, NHTSA finds itself on the ‘hot seat’ for allegedly, three years after having been put in charge of the recall, failing to enforce the consent orders it obtained from Takata and automakers to speed up the repairs and hold them accountable.
Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, and Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety are reportedly accusing the NHTSA of trying to hide this latest report by releasing it on the Friday before Christmas. The NHTSA issued a statement confirming its concern and saying it is “mindful of the progress being made by many manufacturers to track down vehicle owners and spur repairs especially for older vehicles that pose the highest safety risk yet are most difficult to locate.”
Certainly consumers, especially those who have been contacted by their vehicle’s manufacturer, need to follow up with getting the repairs done. And consumers who haven’t been contacted but who are driving older vehicles dating from the early 2000s need to be proactive in finding out whether or not the recall applies to them. There are websites and easily available contact information for local dealerships.