By on November 13, 2014

Billboard advertisement of Takata Corp is pictured in Tokyo

The original airbag propellant recipe used by Takata in the modules at the center of the supplier’s recall crisis has been changed, according to an anonymous company official.

According to Reuters, the source didn’t explain what was changed for the new recipe, but that ammonium nitrate — the chemical used in the original recipe — remained part of the revised propellant’s makeup:

There is no admission of a defect with the original version. There has not been any finding that ammonium nitrate or the earlier composition was somehow flawed. We changed the composition in an effort to improve quality.

The original compound, when exposed to high humidity, caused the inflators in the module to catastrophically explode, showering the cabin and those inside with metal shrapnel that once was the module’s housing.

The new compound has been used in replacement modules for vehicles brought in for repairs under recall, though the source did not say how many vehicles had the new compound, when the change in the recipe was made, or which models had the new modules. Around 17 million vehicles with the defective modules have been recalled since 2008, 11 million in the United States alone.

Takata made over 100 million units with the original recipe since 2000, and is the only major airbag supplier to use ammonium nitrate; Autoliv and TRW Automotive — both of whom called up by Takata to help supply replacements — use guanidine nitrate instead.

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24 Comments on “Takata Airbag Propellant Revised, Composition Unknown...”

  • avatar

    Y’all jus’ need a little mo’ cayenne peppah in there an’ spatulate it… thass all.

    Where’s Justin Wilson when you need him?

  • avatar

    Suffice to say that ammonium nitrate was a “recipe for disaster”. :-(

    Edit: Maybe corporations should be forced to take the “Suze Orman Pledge”… “PEOPLE first, then Money, then things”.

  • avatar

    “After in-depth engineering evaluation, we have concluded that ball bearings are not a necessary component for our airbags.”

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Ammonium nitrate? What ever happened to good old Sodium Azide? When ignited, it releases N2 gas. Ammonium nitrate can detonate instead of deflagrate with nasty results for the hapless driver. Ouch!

  • avatar

    Okay, so what I see on the road everyday is a fair number of old cars/trucks. I live in rust country, so an “old car” is in the ten to fifteen year old mark. Any time a vehicles ownership changes, it needs to be certified my a mechanic. That’s the only time that a “safety” is required.

    So my question is. Can a mechanic check an air bag? I’m thinking, no. So would I be wrong in assuming, that there is millions of people, driving millions of vehicles, with a “Claymore mine” within 2 feet of their face?

    Wow ! And here I thought these things were installed for safety reasons.

    • 0 avatar

      mikey, not all air bags explode when activated. It was Takata’s misfortune to have propellant left out in a humid environment where it absorbed moisture that caused it to become more powerful than specified.

      BTW, it’s not at all unusual to use misters and humidifiers around volatile ammunition.

      I was working around US Air Force ammunitions and missile propellants for more than two decades and many of storage bunkers we used had humidifiers and misters to keep the static down, along with grounding straps.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      You presume correctly … there is no way for a non-destructive visual inspection of the vehicle to detect what’s inside the airbag module.

      There are many, many things that cannot be found by a non-destructive visual inspection, which is what a normal safety inspection is.

      A destructive inspection might turn up more, but it would be rather pointless …

  • avatar

    So wait, they made a material change to the product.

    So were the OEMs notified? Do these airbags have a new part number?

    Is it the same part number?

    If it’s the same why was a change made by a supplier but part number kept the same? If they are the same then how would someone know if they have the dangerous airbag or the replacement one? What evidence exists that this is a “safer” design?

    If the part number was changed, why make the change and state there is no, “material defect.”

    I’m just asking the same questions asked of other companies…

  • avatar

    @210delray – post of the day.

    I’d rather take my chances with zero airbag as opposed to a chest full of shrapnel.

    How about remove the airbags and ship them to war zones. Save a fortune on land mines.

    Until then, where do I get a flack jacket?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    No chemical conspiracy here. I looked up the air bag propellant reaction. The primary compound is sodium azide (NaN3). Potassium nitrate and silica are added to scavenge the metallic sodium generated by the decomposition of NaN3 to Na and N2.
    The whole inflator package is seal so humidity should not affect the propellant package. However, that doesn’t mean the steel container can’t rust from the outside and become too weak to contain the charge.

  • avatar

    Even if they don’t say what the composition is, the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) should be available to anyone who has to use them. The MSDS should list all sorts of things about it. I can’t find it on their website, though. Not that I looked all that hard.

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