Since the defect was discovered in 2015, vehicles made by 19 different automakers have been recalled to replace faulty airbags made by Takata, a Japanese company specializing in automotive safety products. Named as one of the, “largest most complex recalls in U.S. history” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The recall covers vehicles manufactured between 2002 and 2015 that contain Takata airbags, which is approximately 37 million vehicles.
The issue stems from the airbag inflator. The chemical used in the inflating mechanism becomes unstable in the presence of too much moisture. This can cause it to explode prematurely and explode with too much force. Instead of pushing out the airbag and filling it with gas, it explodes the metal container and sends shrapnel through the car. Thus far, the NHTSA has reported a total of 15 Takata airbag-related fatalities in the U.S. and 100 injuries worldwide.
According to George Sink, a Charleston personal injury lawyer, “Drivers from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina should be particularly cautious. The persistent hot and humid environmental conditions of these states put airbags at a higher risk of exploding during deployment.” In addition, the 2001 to 2003 Honda and Acura vehicles, the 2006 Ford Ranger, and the Mazda B truck series specifically are at higher risk of malfunction. Yet it seems that every few months a new set of vehicles gets added to the list.
An independent third party investigation revealed that the malfunctioning airbag deployment system was caused by defective manufacturing practices, such as the improper storage of chemical materials, flawed quality control, and the manipulation of data, intentionally destroying data showing the potential defect of the inflation mechanism.
The cost of the recall and lawsuits from several countries about the cover-up forced Takata to file for bankruptcy in 2017 and close operations. The company was bought by Key Safety Solutions in 2018 and they assumed the financial cost of the recall. Despite the assistance of major airbag suppliers, manufacturers are struggling to meet the demand of the recall. As of January 2018 less than 18 million airbags have been replaced. This is an issue because out of the 19 automakers currently affected by the recall, only 6 companies BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota have adequate loaner car policies to service consumers waiting for parts. In fact, in July of 2018, Ford settled a class-action lawsuit where consumers received free loaner cars during repairs and a small cash payment to assist with expenses. Several automakers have also been sued over the recall.
It is imperative that drivers check to see if their vehicle has been recalled to prevent an accident that could prove fatal, especially those living in hot and humid areas. Check the NHTSA’s website to see if your vehicle’s year, make, and model uses a Takata airbag. If so, see a mechanic right away to get on the list for a replacement. The next round of vehicles to be recalled will be announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in December of 2019.