Takata Airbag Propellant Revised, Composition Unknown

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon

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.

Cameron Aubernon
Cameron Aubernon

Seattle-based writer, blogger, and photographer for many a publication. Born in Louisville. Raised in Kansas. Where I lay my head is home.

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  • APaGttH APaGttH on Nov 13, 2014

    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...

    • See 2 previous
    • APaGttH APaGttH on Nov 13, 2014

      @210delray Just had a thought. If the failed low torque ignition cylinders deactivate the deadly airbags of death anyway, isn't that a "feature." ;-)

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Nov 13, 2014

    @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?

  • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Nov 13, 2014

    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.

  • Andreroy55 Andreroy55 on Nov 13, 2014

    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.