Now-bankrupt air bag manufacturing company Takata has recently discovered a deadly defect in its product.
The newly-found malfunction had led to air bags exploding and hurling shrapnel, or not inflating properly in a crash at all.
This issue comes in addition to an earlier defect that killed at least 24 people and injured hundreds of others worldwide–which also had air bags unexpectedly releasing shrapnel.
On December 19th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released documents detailing its investigation into Audi, Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi regarding their connections to Takata’s recall of 1.4 million inflators.
The current problem has already killed a driver in Australia in an older 3-series BMW. BMW has recalled at least 116,000 vehicles already, and believes the issue is so serious that it has told drivers of affected models to keep their cars parked until repairs can be made. These models include certain 1999 323i and 328i sedans–these vehicles may have Takata inflators that were manufactured before production improvements.
BMW is also recalling 34,000 of its 323i and 328 sedans from 1999 and 2000, as well a 323Ci and 328Ci coupes from 2000, which were all made between March 1998 and March of 2000. It will also recall over 74,000 of its 323i, 325i, 328i, and 330i sedans from 1999 to 2001, which were produced between May 1999 and July 2000. These vehicles may have inflators that were replaced by defective ones.
As of now, the NHTSA is saying Takata has yet to give details on specific affected makes, models, or even model years of the vehicles that may have the defective inflators, so it has told companies to recall them properly as soon as possible. The agency also says that the vehicles that will likely be recalled were made between 1995 and 2000, which is when these particular inflators were produced.
As opposed to recalls in the past, Takata’s non-azide inflators don’t use ammonium nitrate to fill air bags when deployed–but the propellant still has a tendency to deteriorate over time when exposed to humidity or high temperatures. In this case, it can deploy too quickly, causing it to explode the inflator itself. The faulty inflators also have weak seals.
Recent government documents show that Takata made around 4.5 million of these inflators around the globe, but because the vehicles have grown so old, only a portion are still in use.
Currently, Mitsubishi has told national safety regulators that its only vehicle affected is the Montero model from 1998 to 2000, but is still working to finalize its recall.
Toyota and Honda are both still working to determine which of their models will need to be recalled. Audi also said it is investigating its 1997 to 1999 A4, SA6, A8, and TT models to determine whether they are affected.
The Center for Auto Safety’s executive director, Jason Levin, says the investigation currently “highlights the need for aggressive oversight both by NHTSA and by the companies themselves in terms of when they get these reports to take them seriously and move more quickly.”
Although he believes we can’t yet tell if automakers are procrastinating on these recalls, he knows it is vitally important to get the recalls out immediately, as many drivers use their cars for long periods of time. “We need to recognize that just waiting these problems out is not going to solve the dangerous situations that defective parts can create,” he explained.
This recall comes in addition to a large series of problems regarding Takata and its inflators, which eventually sent the company into bankruptcy.
In the largest string of automative recalls in American history, 19 automakers are recalling around 70 million inflators. Takata is also recalling about 100 million of its inflators across the country.
What is left of Takata has been purchased by Key Safety Systems of China for 175 billion yen ($1.6 billion).
BMW has been working quickly to remedy the issues with its models, and intends to replace all faulty inflators with new ones shortly. The company says it will notify owners when these new parts become available.
Decisions for all affected vehicles are expected to be made soon–NHTSA has told all companies to respond with final recall decisions by January 17th.