Voices calling for a total recall of Takata airbags are growing louder and more insistent as the death toll surrounding the defective airbags continues to climb. The December death of 53-year-old South Carolina resident Joel Knight was the ninth in the U.S. attributed to the airbags, which explode with excessive force, sending metal fragments out like shrapnel.
Advocates for a total recall say auto owners are confused in part due to the “piecemeal” way the current recall has been handled. Since 2008, 14 automakers have recalled 24 million vehicles to replace the inflators. However, the Claims Journal reports there may be as many as 50 million vehicles that have yet to be recalled. It was initially thought the defective airbag inflator, which uses ammonium nitrate to create the small explosion to expand the airbag, was only vulnerable in older-model vehicles and in climates affected by high humidity. Recalls began in those areas, and they were the first to begin receiving replacement inflators. But more recent recalls by manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Mercedes include newer models from 2014, and Honda recently issued a recall for a brand new 2016 year model.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given Takata until the end of 2018 to either solve the airbag problem or issue a recall for all vehicles containing Takata airbags. But even if Takata issued a blanket recall today, there are not enough replacement parts to repair all the vehicles that currently contain Takata airbags that may have defective inflators. According to figures supplied to the Claims Journal by Takata, the auto parts supplier says it and other suppliers can make up to 1.5 million replacement inflators a month, or 18 million per year. Because some of those inflators would have to go to other countries also affected by the Takata airbag recall, it would take four years just to replace the Takata airbags currently under recall in the United States.
Despite this problem, there are many saying a total recall cannot wait. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter last month asking NHTSA head Mark Rosekind to recall all Takata inflators in U.S. cars, saying:
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. I am concerned that the current approach may be needlessly incremental and fail to adequately protect public safety.
Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey also wrote a letter to NHTSA last month asking NHTSA to recall all the inflators and force Takata to publish a comprehensive list of all makes and models for which it has supplied airbags since 2000. It’s quite apparent that the Takata airbags debacle is far from over.
Takata has sold about 54 million of its ammonium nitrate inflators in the U.S. A little more than half of those airbag inflators have been recalled, but only 30 percent have been repaired. The other half has not been recalled. This means that nearly 20 million people are driving vehicles equipped with Takata inflator mechanisms that could deploy with excessive force or explode.
Sources: Claims Journal, New York Times, The Herald, Reuters, New York Times, and SaferCar.gov
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