May 20, 2015

Largest automotive recall in history affects one in seven cars in U.S.

After battling for months with the with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the safety of its airbags, Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata issued a sweeping recall for 34 million vehicles equipped with its airbags. Takata had incurred a $14,000 fine for each day it failed to comply with the NHTSA’s demands to recall vehicles equipped with its defective airbags.  At least six people have been killed and more than 100 injured by defective Takata airbags.

The problems with Takata’s airbags are believed to originate from ammonium nitrate, which is used to inflate airbags. This chemical compound allegedly becomes unstable due to moisture and humidity seeping into Takata’s airbag inflator housing.  Ammonium nitrate can ignite under pressure and explode, destroying the metal airbag inflator housing and send pieces of metal shrapnel flying into vehicles occupants.

Twice as many cars recalled than initially estimated

When news first broke of the potential defects in Takata airbags, the Japanese company issued a limited recall to vehicles in states with high temperatures and humidity.  The NHTSA, on the other hand, insisted that Takata recall all vehicles with its defective airbags.  Takata defied the federal government and refused to expand its initial recall. The two parties went back and forth for months. The NHTSA and members of Congress even lambasted Takata executives in public hearings on Capitol Hill.

Takata’s latest action doubles the number of recalled vehicles from 17 million to 34 million.  Experts estimate it could take years for all recalled vehicles to receive new airbags.  Of all car makers, Honda has been most affected by Takata’s recall. More deaths and injuries associated with Takata airbags occurred in Honda vehicles than any other auto manufacturer. Honda executives were also the subject of legislators’ ire during Capitol Hill hearings.