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The Straight Dope On the Takata Airbag Recall

Sections: Car Safety

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Airbag

(Scantynebula photo courtesy stockfreeimages.com)

By now you’ve probably read or heard about an airbag recall. It affects some 3.4 million vehicles, mostly from Japanese makes.

If you feel like deciphering the official documents, here’s where you can find the recall notice and supporting documents. If you’re like most people and would prefer to read it as an in-depth narrative, Reuters had a particularly good look at the full story.

The manufacturers affected, according to Takata’s filing with NHTSA: Honda, Mazda, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, and General Motors (Pontiac Vibe only)

Why the recall?

In its recall acknowledgement letter to Takata, NHTSA said, “Takata has determined that certain passenger side air bag inflators it manufactured and supplied to various vehicle manufacturers for use in passenger air bags may produce excessive internal pressure causing the inflators to rupture upon deployment of the air bag….In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger’s air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking and potentially seriously injuring the passenger seat occupant or other occupants.”

Takata’s initial notice sent to NHTSA said, “Some propellant wafers produced at Takata’s plant in Moses Lake, Washington between April 13, 2000 and September 11, 2002 may have been produced with an inadequate compaction force….ln addition, some propellant wafers used in inflators produced at Takata’ s plant in Monclova, Mexico between October 4, 2001 and October 31 , 2002 may have been exposed to uncontrolled moisture conditions. Those wafers could have absorbed moisture beyond the allowable limits.”

The notice continued:

“In both cases, the propellant could potentially deteriorate over time due to environmental factors, which could lead to over-aggressive combustion in the event of an air bag deployment. This could create excessive internal pressure within the inflator, and the body of the inflator could rupture.”

To get a little further in-depth into the reason this recall is happening, we quote the Reuters piece:

 

From February 2012 through June last year, Takata could not reproduce the problem in testing, but that autumn the supplier was alerted to three additional incidents – two in Puerto Rico and one in Maryland – according to documents filed with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

By October 2012, Takata concluded it was possible that the propellant in certain wafers made at its plant in Moses Lake, WA, might be inadequately compressed, which could lead to the rupture, according to NHTSA documents.

By March this year, it also discovered that some wafers used in inflators made at a plant in Monclova, Mexico, for a year ending in late October 2002 may have been exposed to excess moisture, which could lead to a rupture, according to the NHTSA documents.

Takata is aware of only six cases where an inflator ruptured in vehicles in the field – four in the United States and two in Japan – as well as six cases in salvage yards in Japan, according to NHTSA documents.

What took so long? Reuters quoted anonymous “industry officials” as saying the time elapsed between initial reporting of the incidents and the decision to issue a recall was not unusually long. The “companies typically search for patterns and possible causes of problems before launching a recall,” the piece said.

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