We first reported on the Takata airbag recall on our blog in November of 2014. At that time, it was just becoming common knowledge that defective Takata airbags were violently exploding in even minor car accidents, shooting shrapnel into drivers and passengers, causing injury and even death.
Takata only started to come clean about this potentially deadly situation in 2013; it is now clear from investigations that Takata knew about the problem in 2004, if not earlier. The Wall Street Journal has uncovered evidence that Takata was hiding knowledge of airbag flaws from Honda as early as 2000, and Bloomberg has reported that Takata attempted to curb airbag deployment problems as early as 2008 by changing its airbag propellant.
At least ten people have died and hundreds more have been injured from the faulty airbags.
The Current Takata Airbag Recall Situation
The 12 automakers involved in the airbag recall scandal have regularly continued to add recalled vehicles to the list over the last year and a half. As of February 2016, it is estimated that over 20 million vehicles have been recalled due to the potential danger of improperly deployed airbags. Disturbingly, Takata has cautioned that some of its replacement airbags are also faulty and has actually recalled millions of cars that have been “repaired” in the recall.
Honda, Takata’s biggest customer, stopped using Takata airbags entirely as of the end of 2015 after it lost $363 million in repair costs in just one year due to the recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has fined Takata $70 million and has threatened an additional $130 million in fines if they do not follow the rules set out for them. Takata has agreed to allow oversight by NHTSA for five years, to appoint a safety commissioner to its board, and to devise an internal employee whistleblower program.
As of March 2015, only 12 percent of the recalled vehicles in the United States had been refitted as compared to 70 percent of affected vehicles in Japan.
What Is Causing Takata Airbags to Explode?
The cause of the faulty Takata airbags is still being investigated. According to independent research commissioned by ten major automakers affected by the defective airbags, the problems appear to be caused by a combination of several factors:
- The chemical that is used to inflate the airbags, ammonium nitrate, has been found to be present in all of the problem airbags.
- When this chemical is used without the addition of a moisture-absorbing chemical — a “desiccant” — it is believed that excessive moisture that builds up over time can cause the ammonium nitrate to degrade and cause explosions.
- Faulty construction of the Takata inflator is another factor that, when combined with very long exposure to excess humidity (often in very hot or tropical climates), can cause the airbags to deploy with significantly more force than intended.
Takata has speculated that rust, bad welds, and mishandled propellant chemicals could also have contributed to the malfunctions. In one case, a piece of chewing gum was apparently dropped into one of the airbag mechanisms and may have caused a fault. On top of everything else, there may also be a design flaw in the material that the actual airbags are made of.
Takata Continues to Make Mistakes
Incredibly, Takata has been given until the end of 2017 to completely phase out the non-desiccant ammonium nitrate inflators even though there is speculation that even ammonium nitrate with desiccant added may contribute to faulty airbag deployment. Ford has announced that it will no longer use any Takata airbags that contain ammonium nitrate.
In June of last year, then-executive VP of Takata North America (now president) Kevin Kennedy testified before a Congressional committee that he believes that ammonium nitrate is safe for use in airbags. However, he also admitted that Takata is transitioning away from ammonium nitrate to guanidine nitrate, which is used by other airbag manufacturers.
One report showed that in 2002, a Takata plant in Mexico approved and shipped 60 to 80 defective airbag inflators for every million, which is six to eight times above acceptable standards.
Unbelievably, Takata is still recalling airbags that were fitted into 2015 and 2016 car models. It is estimated that the airbag recall will not be completed until 2019.
Have You Been Affected by this Airbag Recall?
The Takata airbag debacle is still unfolding. Both Toyota and GM have added recalled vehicles to the list within the last month.
So many cars have been affected by the Takata recall that everyone needs to double check to make sure that their vehicle is not on the list. Go to https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/
and input your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if your car is subject to any recalls, including the Takata airbag one. Make sure that all of your friends and family members do the same.
Remember that Takata knew about this issue more than fifteen years ago and covered up the defects for many years. And Takata is continuing to manufacture airbags that have some of the very same qualities that the known defective airbags have. Clearly, there are still many grave issues with Takata’s airbags. If you or a loved one has sustained an airbag injury, contact Donaghue & Labrum immediately. We will help determine who is liable for your pain and suffering.