NHTSA Expands Recall for Takata Airbag Inflators, Accelerates Timetable

The amended consent order calls for the recall of an additional 35 to 40 million inflators

NHTSA Expands Recall for Takata Airbag Inflators, Accelerates Timetable
Image: Pixabay
May 4, 2016

After a couple of relatively quiet months on the Takata front, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is expanding and accelerating the recall of Takata airbag inflators.

In the agency's amended consent order issued to Takata, the company is required to support vehicle manufacturer recall campaigns of an additional estimated 35-40 million inflators, in addition to the nearly 29 million already subject to recall. This expansion covers all Takata ammonium nitrate-based propellant frontal air bag inflators manufactured without a chemical drying agent.

"Today's action is a significant step in the U.S. Department of Transportation's aggressive oversight of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers across America," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a written statement. "The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe."

Ruptures of Takata inflators have been connected to more than 100 injuries in the United States, including ten deaths.

Through the results of three independent investigations, NHTSA is able to confirm that the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant is the root cause of the Takata airbag ruptures. When the propellant is compromised, it can burn too quickly, rupturing the module and sending shrapnel through the airbag toward the driver and passengers.

The expansion of the recall will take place in phases between May 2016 and December 2019. The schedule will be determined by a combination of the factors that contribute to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant. These factors include time, moisture in the area, and varying high temperatures.

"The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature," NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said in a written statement. "This recall schedule ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants."

NHTSA will consult with vehicle manufacturers to revise the existing coordinated remedy program, which governs the effort to repair the affected inflators. The revised program will be announced this summer, detailing the updated vehicle prioritization schedule.

Inflators that were manufactured with a chemical drying agent, also known as a desiccant, are not included in the recall. There have been no reported ruptures of the desiccated inflators due to propellant degradation.

In 2015, NHTSA imposed the largest civil penalty in its history for Takata's violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and for the first time used its authority to accelerate recall repairs to millions of affected vehicles. NHTSA also appointed an independent monitor to assess, track, and report the company's compliance with the consent order and to oversee the coordinated remedy program.

NHTSA and the affected manufacturers have committed to seek a 100 percent recall completion rate.