By on December 13, 2019

Automakers could be staring down the barrel of another brutally large airbag recall as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration evaluates the long-term safety of inflators manufactured by the now-bankrupt Takata. Earlier this month, the parts supplier announced a recall affecting 1.4 million additional vehicles following the death of a BMW driver. Several new injuries also stemmed from the issue.

At the same time, the U.S. road safety regulator had to make a decision as to whether the roughly 100 million inflators containing a chemical drying agent intended to solve the problem are actually safe.

So far, it’s looking like a no. 

Takata was originally busted for selling defective inflators using ammonium nitrate, which became unstable after the passage of time and ran the risk of exploding and spraying occupants with metallic debris. The situation grew worse when moisture was introduced, making affected vehicles in humid locales especially dangerous. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 after reaching a $1 billion settlement with the Justice Department over wire fraud charges. It has since been acquired by China’s Joyson Safety Systems.

The NHTSA has until the end of 2019 to make a final decision. If it decides the inflators containing the drying agent are deemed unworthy, we’re looking at another recall of epic proportions. This time automakers will be handed a bill, because Takata is no more.

“The automakers and the suppliers, they all knew this was coming,” Scott Upham of Valient Market Research explained to Bloomberg in an interview. “They are on the hook. Because of Takata’s bankruptcy, they are going to have to cover 100 percent of the costs.”

From Bloomberg:

A group of automakers involved in the [original] recalls commissioned durability tests of the desiccant-equipped airbags and presented their findings to NHTSA in early October. The group, known as the Independent Testing Coalition, found that the drying agent provided significant protection. The group recommended a monitoring program for one inflator design in the riskiest climates while telling NHSTA that it believes the parts present no immediate safety risk.

“After 30 years of predicted aging, none of the studied inflator designs and propellant combinations predicted detrimental effects, except those subjected to the most severe conditions and vehicle temperature,” David Kelly, the ITC’s program director and a former NHTSA acting administrator, said in an October statement.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA said it’s still reviewing information regarding the safety of the desiccated inflators and hopes to have enough data to determine its next step before long.

[Image: 360b/Shutterstock]

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28 Comments on “Another Gigantic Takata Airbag Recall Could Be Incoming...”


  • avatar
    phxmotor

    When airbags were first being developed Tally Industries was one of the first hopeful suppliers. They were one of my accounts. I had to laugh when I learned they were actually miniature versions of LANDMINES which Tally Industries made for the military. When testing everyone hid behind 2foot thick walls. It took me years to be comfortable with them in my cars.
    The solution to NHTSA’s concern for their safety? It’s so simple: Why not let NHTSA make them instead? As notoriously hard to make as they obviously are… private enterprise might want to back away and let “the experts” take over…….

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Honda’s Takata is your momma!

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        in other news, Buick will no longer purvey its collection of crap cars designed by second and third tier car companies.

        yes, Buick will no longer sell crap cars to people in the US who don’t know any better – it’s become the Encore company, selling a Korean thing that represents 60% of its, commerce

        ever know a sucker who bought a Verano? and then an Encore?

        exactly – doubling down on stupid is a sign of genius

      • 0 avatar
        Lokki

        Takata is a Japanese company. Honda is not associated with them except as a customer… just like GM, Ford, and many other companies.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takata_Corporation

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          Some items not in the Wikipedia post…

          It’s long been speculated that Honda’s US engineers were complicit in approving Takata air bags for their cars. Takata manipulated some of it’s data ostensibly to prove that the inflaters were safe. Also, Honda owned stock in Takata at the time, but this is a common practice between suppliers and manufacturers in Japan.

          Both companies dismissed initial reports as anomalies, but as the injuries and fatalities increased it was apparent that it was not.

          https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/05/business/international/in-hondas-rebuke-of-takata-a-rare-move-for-business-partners-in-japan.html

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          “…Takata executives are focused on finding short-term solutions to their troubles. That may not be easy. Honda Motors, which has now turned to Takata’s competitors for inflator units, accounted for almost 40% of the company’s revenues last year.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          DETROIT (Reuters) – In August of 2009, after ruptured airbag inflators in Honda vehicles were linked to least four injuries and a death, the automaker quietly requested a design change and did not notify U.S. regulators, Honda confirmed in response to inquiries from Reuters….The request shows that Honda understood the safety risks posed by the inflators long before it started expanding recalls by the millions in 2014…The fail-safe modification – outlined in Takata technical documents and internal presentations between 2009 and 2011 and confirmed by Honda – added vents in the inflator to channel pressure from an explosion away from a driver’s neck and torso.” 

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “ I had to laugh when I learned they were actually miniature versions of LANDMINES which Tally Industries made for the military.”

      This is as dumb as those people who say things like “don’t you know that artificial sweetener is only ONE MOLECULE away from rat poison?” It’s like, so? Table salt is one bond away from being explosive and toxic.

      Simple fact is there’s not too many reliable ways to rapidly generate a lot of expanding gas. And almost all of those ways involve cramming nitrogen atoms into molecules they don’t really want to be part of.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    So why did use Takata use ammonium nitrate? I clearly remember that in the early days of airbags, sodium azide was the propellant of choice.

    Was ammonium nitrate supposed to be safer? It’s definitely not safe.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Apparently there are toxicity concerns with sodium azide (not really a problem once the airbag deploys, but during transport/manufacture, and end of life).

      According to wikipedia, ammonium nitrate is less stable but less “expensive”* than tetrazole.

      *Had to google the meaning of this word – apparently there are subtle nuances between initial material cost and lifetime cost including recalls, liability and enterprise risk?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        They’re not “concerns,” sodium azide is *extremely* toxic.

        • 0 avatar
          sayahh

          Yeah, you’re supposed to get rid of all the clothes you were wearing (i.e., not launder them but rather throw them away) after carefully taking them off and avoiding to breathe the sodium azide residue from airbag deployments.

          Takata supposedly found a safer alternative for sodium azide, but then found that ammonium nitrate would be much cheaper than the alternative they found so they went with ammonium nitrate. Penny wise, pound foolish indeed; bankruptcy and 20+ dead people foolish. People did caution the company that ammonium nitrate would be dangerous, but just like Ford ignoring their engineers about the transmission or Boeing ignoring warnings about the 737 Max problems, they just didn’t listen because they didn’t want to scrap their money-saving idea or lose out on bonuses (probably).

          • 0 avatar
            dukeisduke

            Thanks for all the insight on sodium azide. Anyone know when the switch happened? My last truck was a ’95 F-150, and when it was just a few months old, I was in a rear-ender where the bag (it had driver’s side only) deployed. I still have the deployed bag in a box somewhere. The big Ford (made by TRW) airbags are legendary for their power, so there used to be (maybe still are) YouTube videos of guys in junkyards doing thing like blowing up old refrigerators by putting a Ford bag inside and firing it off.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    a) When was Peak Airbag?

    b) Do the same concerns exist for seatbelt pretensioners, or different ballgame?

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    So is this the 3rd round here or the 2nd?

    I did my Corolla a couple years ago. Got another notice recently the replaced bag is possibly also defective, so the car is going in tomorrow to have the replaced inflator replaced again.

    So am I going to have the replacement replacement replaced after tomorrow?

    I mean you wanna not be killed but jeez.

    • 0 avatar
      psychoboy

      Depends on several factors.

      When the recall first came out, nobody had any stock of good-formula explosives, they only had NEW stock of bad-formula explosives. Since the problem was age-related, most of the early recalls involved swapping old bad cans for new bad cans. Of course, new bad cans eventually become old bad cans, so manufacturers had to create good cans for a true fix. The second round of recalls was mostly putting new good cans in not-quite-old bad can cars. Finally, the third round consists of putting new good cans in those cars that got new bad cans in the beginning.

      If it turns out that the good cans are not actually good enough, then all the cars that have gotten them will be called in for their second or third can. (or more, because serial number control was VERY inconsistent for the first couple years of the recalls).

      source: shipping/receiving clerk and occasional warranty clerk for a Honda dealer since before the recall started. I have processed over 15,000 inflators since 2008. None of the info above is official Honda info, just information I’ve gleaned watching this opera play out for over a decade.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    An acquaintance just had her car’s airbags replaced under recall, then proceeded to total the car the following week. The new airbags deployed without incident, thankfully.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    This is getting old. And tiring.

    • 0 avatar
      sayahh

      “This is getting old.”

      Well, not the people killed by the shrapnels…

      • 0 avatar
        ravenuer

        Of course that wasn’t my point. Apparently the gubmint, Takata, car makers and whatever safety groups involved don’t seem overly concerned, otherwise they could have gotten this done.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          you don’t grasp the scale of the problem.

          • 0 avatar
            ravenuer

            Neither do they.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            yes they do. But reality places constraints on everything. Here’s what I mean:

            When you supply a part like an airbag inflator to a car company, you’re shipping hundreds of thousands of parts every year to assembly plants. you are also producing a couple percent of production volume as service and repair parts for current models and older ones going back about 10 years.

            When this recall was ordered, literally overnight Takata’s service part volume needed to be 400-500% of production volume. it was simply impossible to build that many parts *and* still supply new ones to assembly plants. And the other suppliers (TRW, Autoliv, Daicel) would need significant time designing, testing, and certifying parts to replace Takata parts. They couldn’t just copy the Takata part and use a different propellant.

          • 0 avatar
            ravenuer

            Ok, I get your point.

  • avatar

    Are there any Takata airbags left ?
    I still get very stern notices for my 2012 VW Golf (gone).
    I got notices for my 2003 BMW -and they replaced the driver’s side, and I’m still on the wait list for the passenger side (car scrapped).

    So far, the 2017 VW and 2019 Benz don’t have any airbag recalls….yet.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I have one sitting in a closet, mostly because I don’t feel like blowing half a day taking the module to the dealer and trying to get a replacement without going through a full install.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    High mileage is a poor metric for longevity. A vehicle driven at optimal temperatures on paved roads in the southern USA will live much longer than a pickup driven all year long by a logger who spends most of his time on gravel roads along with -45C winter starts.

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