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Why investigators are still probing Takata air bag inflators By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: This is a Takata airbag inflator recalled that was seen before it was taken from a Jeep, Colorado United States. July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By David Shepardson and Paul Lienert

(Reuters) – Why are U.S. auto safety regulators opening a new investigation into Takata air bag inflators installed in millions of vehicles built over the past 20 years?

The original inflators may still be in use on some of these vehicles, and others could have new inflators added to vehicles that were recalled. These inflators may burst unexpectedly, especially if they are exposed to high heat or humidity. This can cause metal shrapnel to enter the vehicle’s cabin and could lead to injuries and even death.

What does an “inflator” mean?

A small, explosive device called an “inflator” is used to inflate air bags in vehicles. It can ignite quickly in car crashes and then fill large cushions with inert gases to protect the occupants.

A family-run Japanese company called Takata, now controlled by China’s Joyson Electronic Corp, started supplying air bags to auto companies around the world in the late 1980s.

Since the 1990s, Takata’s inflators have used ammonium Nitrate as their propellant. If that chemical is left exposed to heat and moisture for long periods of time, it can begin to break down. It could also become explosive and volatile.

When did Takata know?

Takata was the one who discovered of the inflator rupture. Some of the company’s managers learned of additional inflator ruptures after that. Some test report data was altered by Takata employees to hide this from Takata’s automaker customers.

In 2008, Takata announced the first Takata recall involving 4,000 Honda Accords and Civics. Over the next five years, Honda Motor Co, Toyota Motor (NYSE:) Corp, Nissan (OTC:) Motor Co, Mazda Motor (OTC:) Corp and BMW AG recalled nearly 4 million U.S. vehicles for inflator ruptures, a total that grew to more than 10 million by 2014 and eventually 67 million in 2016.

Takata requested bankruptcy protection in Japan, the United States, and Japan in 2017.

More than 100 million Takata inflators were recalled around the world over the past decade. About 50 million vehicles have been repaired or replaced in the U.S. recalls.

Takata defective inflators have caused at least 28 deaths, 19 of which were in America, as well as more than 400 injuries.

The latest investigation

To help mitigate issues with ammonium nitrate, Takata in 2015 agreed to start building original-equipment and replacement inflators with a drying agent, called a desiccant, to absorb excess moisture.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that there were no reports of ruptures on roads involving airbag inflators with drying agents.

The agency in September 2021 said it “wants to evaluate the future risk” of inflators made with desiccant and installed in vehicles that have not been recalled.

The new investigation includes vehicles assembled by Honda, Ford Motor (NYSE:) Co, Toyota, General Motors Co (NYSE:), Nissan, Subaru (OTC:), Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc, Ferrari NV (NYSE:), Mazda, Daimler AG (DE:), BMW, Chrysler (now part of Stellantis NV ), Porsche Cars and Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors (NYSE:)), among others.

NHTSA stated that its investigation will require detailed information about Takata’s production process and field surveys.