Vehicles made by 14 different automakers have been recalled
to replace frontal airbags on the driver’s side or passenger’s side, or both in
what NHTSA has called "the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S.
history." The airbags, made by major parts supplier Takata, were mostly
installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2015. Some of those airbags
could deploy explosively, injuring or even killing car occupants.
At the heart of the problem is the airbag’s inflator, a
metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers, which in some cases has ignited
with explosive force. If the inflator housing ruptures in a crash, metal shards
from the airbag can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin—a potentially
disastrous outcome from a supposedly life-saving device.
NHTSA has determined the root cause of the problem: airbags
that use ammonium nitrate-based propellent without a chemical drying agent. As
postulated early on, environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age as associated
with the defect that can improperly inflate the airbags and even send shrapnel
into the occupant. To date, there have been 10 deaths and more than 100
injuries due to this problem in the U.S.
With this discovery, NHTSA is more than doubling the size of
the recall, adding 35-40 million airbag inflators to be replaced through 2019.
This tally is in addition to the 28.8 million airbags already recalled.
The safety agency has not yet announced the vehicles that
are included in the expansion. NHTSA will consult the affected automakers to
determine a rollout schedule for the recall, prioritizing the highest-risk