By on July 27, 2016


Automakers are busy recalling tens of millions of vehicles to fix potentially deadly Takata airbags, but the fix won’t solve the problem, a former Takata employee says.

The scandal-plagued airbag manufacturer is using the same ammonium nitrate propellant in its replacement inflators, said Mark Ellie, Takata’s former engineering manager, in a report by WGME. Because of this, he claims the danger isn’t gone — it’s just delayed.

There are 10 U.S. deaths and over 100 injuries linked to the airbags. The danger lies in the propellant — the ammonium nitrate can degrade over time, helped along by heating and cooling cycles, and high humidity. Eventually, the chemical explodes with too much force, turning the perforated metal inflator into an anti-personnel mine aimed at an occupant’s head and neck.

The replacement inflators also contain ammonium nitrate, but with a drying agent to soak up humidity. When he supervised Takata’s airbag development, Ellie warned against using ammonium nitrate in its new designs. Takata didn’t heed his warnings, and began using the chemical in 1999.

“Ammonium nitrate is not an appropriate choice for a high precision explosive. It’s used in bulk applications, in open-pit mining and that kind of thing,” Ellie told the CBS affiliate.

Heat and humidity slowly turns the solid ammonium nitrate in its airbags into a powder with greater explosive potential. Adding a drying agent, like an ordinary desiccant — such as a silica gel pouch — added to packaging, only slows the breakdown. Recalled inflators might have to be recalled again.

“The desiccant only slows the progress, it does not eliminate the problem,” said Lillie. “And secondly, the desiccant does nothing to overcome the thermal cycling problem. There’s nothing there that solves that problem.”

After reviewing past patents, Lillie said Takata worked on a proper fix between 2000 and 2014, and likely didn’t find one.

The recall involves about 70 million vehicles with faulty airbag inflators, and more vehicles could join the list. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration controls the multi-phase process, which should be complete by the end of 2019.

In late June, the NHTSA issued an emergency notice for certain older Honda and Acura vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. Testing showed a failure rate of up to 50 percent.

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21 Comments on “Is the Takata Airbag Recall Creating a New Problem (and Just Postponing Danger)?...”

  • avatar

    I’m surprised the New Orleans beads are still hanging from the rear view mirror after that accident picture.

    Honda knew about and ordered an engineering change almost a decade ago, not telling the NHTSA. Many honda owners have already on their second, recalled airbag.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    So what you’re saying is that it’s not a bad thing that I’ve been waiting 7 months for my Legacy air bag?

    I always wondered if it was going to be a real fix or just another air bag that will fail in the future.

  • avatar

    Never mind replace – some manufacturers, Mitsubishi, VW, and Toyota, are still using recalled Takata airbags in the building of brand new vehicles.

    No, not airbags that use the same propellant, literally airbags that are on the recall list and shouldn’t be used in new vehicle construction. After being caught, FCA, the fourth, ended the practice this month, Mitsubishi and VW have been silent, and Toyota agreed to notify customers, “oh ya, by the way, that new Toyota you just bought has recalled airbags in it.”

    Never mind that Honda was complicit with Takata over a decade ago and worked to silence their own engineers who were alarmed at the doctored test results, including being ordered to remove failed test units out of the program – results that were doctored by Takata to begin with.

    How makers are getting such a free ride over this I’ll never understand.

    04-07 Corollas/Matrix/Vibe (notice a GM product is on that list PCH101) have an over 2% chance of a catastrophic failure of an airbag. Now consider how many Corollas/Matrix/Vibes were built/sold over that period, run the numbers on impacted vehicles, and extrapolate that out in comparison to some other “scandals.”

    Remember – Toyota gas pedal clearance issues or floor mats? Take out floor mat. Problem solved.

    Remember – GM ignition switch issue. Take crap off of key. Problem solved.

    Ford immolating cruise control relays. Park vehicle outside and not in garage. Vehicle may still immolate but at least not your house.

    VW diesel scandal. Well the vehicle can’t kill you directly no matter how you slice it – and VW will now buy it back.

    Takata air bags – nothing you can do, and you have a 1% to 50% chance (depending on year/make/model) of having a Claymore mine in your steering wheel. Up to a 50% chance on over 300K Honda models. One-in-two chance the system made to save your life, will actually maim or kill you.

    One last thing – we’ll never know the real numbers of people killed/maimed because an ME or doctor would have to have really been looking for it up to the last couple of years. Meh, they’re hamburger from blunt force trauma – that is cause of death. The Takata killed/maimed number is much lower than what it is.

    • 0 avatar

      If I had bad Takata bags and I liked the car, I’d disable them until the replacements arrived. And by the time the replacements “aged out” I’m guessing the car is done.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m waiting on an airbag replacement(driver side) for my 04 Ranger. Can I disable it or insist that Ford remove it until the new one comes in?

        • 0 avatar

          Same here – only mine is for a 2008 Fusion. I thought I was in the clear – but got the latter last week. Can it be disabled??

        • 0 avatar

          On older GMs it’s as easy as pulling a fuse.

          (I changed out the steering wheel on my 99 Sonoma to a leather Bravada wheel.)

          Beyond that it’s quite easy to remove the bag completely via a couple of spring clips accessed from the backside of the steering wheel and the electrical connector is a simple 2 wire plug with a plastic key for retention.

          I’d recommend looking at the factory service manual for your model.

        • 0 avatar

          Disable – technically illegal.

          Have dealer disable – definitely illegal for the dealer to do – so quite simply they won’t.

          I’m sure for the driver side YouTube is your friend, and you could find a walk through on airbag and steering wheel removal on a Ford Ranger.

          You’ll have a light on for the dashboard, disposal of the Claymore mine will be an issue (for the love of God don’t throw it in the trash, you could literally kill someone) and you’ll have to (well at least ethically) reveal to anyone if you sell there is no airbag.

          One other rub – in order to do the swap, once the part becomes available, Ford may want the old part.

          • 0 avatar

            Re: technically illegal

            “when disabling airbags is outlawed only outlaws will disable airbags”

            (is this an issue where they have state inspections? do they mandate a repair when there is an airbag light on?)

            Re: Claymore mine

            I wouldn’t be at all worried having one sitting on the shelf in my garage and turning it in to the dealer when they do the repair.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        There’s always the latest from Honda, which I received just this week: don’t have anyone sit in that seat! (My ’08 Pilot already has had the driver side replaced; the notice was for the passenger side.)

        Since this is my wife’s vehicle, I told her, I’d ride in the back seat with the dog — and she could be our chauffeur.

        • 0 avatar

          I just got the same thing for our Civic. No recall (so far) for the driver side. Recommendation is for no one to sit in the passenger seat. I thought that was pretty funny! Only we have 2 child seats in the back, so… just make sure not to crash?

  • avatar

    Any posters or writers for TTAC know where I can find a list of companies that used Takata airbags and the models where they were installed? Not just those impacted by the recall now – I’m looking for an unabridged list of Takata airbag equipped vehicles.

    I typically buy CPO vehicles and want to avoid this particular recall in the future.

  • avatar

    Not that it matters much, but WGME didn’t do that story. Looks like an ABC affiliate in Washington DC did the story.

    WGME is Portland, Maine’s Sinclair owned CBS affiliate

  • avatar

    I got the airbag inflator changed on my SC 430 in the last week. Interestingly it was the passenger airbag that was recalled. I didn’t think to ask if the new inflator was also manufactured by Takata. This was a big mistake on my part.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d call the dealer service dept and ask.

      Tell them it’s easier to just let you know than appearing in court to answer the subpoena from some class action tort attorney.

  • avatar


    Yeah, I am sure Joe the service writer will be cowed by that.

  • avatar

    I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but the vast majority of replacement inflators that we are installing in Hondas are a different brand than Takata. Most are Autoliv. Early on in the recall fiasco we were replacing Takata inflators with Takata, so I expect those will be recalled again down the road.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Noticing all the trash and lotto tickets on the floorboard of the pictured car, plus the numerous mardi gras bead necklaces hanging from its rearview mirror, this would have been a perfect car for CrabSpirits or CoreyDL to write a story on, too bad it never got posted on “Junkyard Finds”…

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