By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — February 17, 2016 — The Takata airbag saga seems to be inflating to a new level of complexity and concern. Last month Federal safety regulators in the US confirmed that a South Carolina man died in December as a result of an explosion in a Takata airbag that wasn’t under recall.
The accident has led to calls that Takata recall all inflators in all US cars. On December 22 the driver of a 2006 Ford Ranger struck a cow on a rural road in South Carolina, setting off the airbag. The driver died after metal fragments from the inflator impaled his neck. According to the law firm representing the family the crash was moderate and otherwise survivable. To this point the company and regulators have been taking a piecemeal and fragmented approach to the recall, with only certain models being recalled.
Now, in a letter sent February 10, Mark Rosekind, head of the US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, writing to Senator Bill Nelson, recommends the agency recall all Takata inflators in US cars. Doing so would see the number of car recalled potentially double from the 24 million cars already under recall to some 50 million vehicles. The recall is already the largest in history.
The problem seems to be an issue with the chemical compound, ammonium nitrate. The substance creates the small explosion that inflates the bags in a crash. But it seems that over time and in high temperatures and humid areas this substance breaks down and can explode with too much force, scattering metal shards through the passenger compartment.
“Recent events and recalls involving relatively new vehicles with these types of inflators raise serious questions as to whether Takata’s ammonium nitrate propellant is inherently dangerous,” Nelson has been quoted as saying. “I am concerned that the current approach may be needlessly incremental and fail to adequately protect public safety.”
In the US, it would take about four years to replace inflators now under recall. Doubling that order would put a real strain on the ability of the current automotive repair structure to carry out the work. Collision Repair magazine has reported that Transport Canada officials have suggested the use of collision repair facilities to help achieve the recall. Leanne Jeffries, Director of Collision Programs at Automotive Industries Association of Canada, has indicated in the past that there is broad support for such a policy in the industry.
Honda Canada has also announced it is going ahead with a program that will see posters provided to collision repair facilities to help identify what makes of cars are involved. The shops will be asked to let drivers know if the car brought into the shop is one involved in the recall. But with a potential doubling of the cars involved, it seems much more will need to be done if this recall is going to be accomplished.
Another airbag maker, Continental Automotive Systems, has said it supplied potentially defective airbag control units to five million vehicles used in Honda, Fiat Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz and other vehicles built over a five-year period.
Earlier this week General Motors announced it is recalling about 200,000 Saturn and Saab models in North America to replace Takata driver’s side airbag inflators. The recall covers Saab 9-3 vehicles from the 2003 through 2011 model years, Saab 9-5 vehicles from the 2010 through 2011 model years and Saturn Astra vehicles from the 2008 and 2009 model years. These vehicles contain the Takata PSDI-5 driver front airbag inflator.
About 180,000 of the recalled vehicles are in the US. The remainder are in Canada. Takata airbags are now linked to at least 10 deaths and up to 100 injuries.