However, there's no definitive cause yet known for these ruptures, but exposure to moisture for extended periods does appear to play a role by causing the inflator propellant to ignite too quickly.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Takata are announcing that the supplier's airbag inflator recall could be expanding to an estimated 33.8 million vehicles in the US. If that number proves accurate, it would roughly double the current 17 million cars so far recalled and would make this the largest product recall of any kind in the country's history. NHTSA hasn't yet officially confirmed the expansion, but three sources corroborated it to The Detroit News.
NHTSA is holding a press conference later today, and the agency is expected to outline four defect information reports from Takata that would cover both the driver and passenger side inflators in these 33.8 million vehicles. Automakers still need to sift through this new information to ascertain which of their own vehicles are now covered. That process is expected to take a few days, according to The Detroit News. The repairs for passenger side inflators might focus first on high-humidity areas. If later tests show that these are safe, then the total could fall.
Global expansions of this recall from Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Daihatsu were announced last week and affected millions of vehicles. However, a relatively small number of these were in the US. A recent study by Takata found the inflators' propellant could be affected by moisture over time.
The previous record recall was the 1982 campaign to take 31 million bottles of Tylenol off the shelves due to poison fears, according to The Detroit News. We'll update this post as the story develops, so stay tuned.
Takata Air Bag Defects
Takata files defect reports, enters Consent Order; NHTSA to coordinate remedy program
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced that at the Department's insistence, air bag manufacturer Takata has acknowledged that a defect exists in its air bag inflators. Takata has agreed to a national recall of certain types of driver and passenger side air bag inflators. These inflators were made with a propellant that can degrade over time and has led to ruptures that have been blamed for six deaths worldwide. The action expands the number of vehicles to be recalled for defective Takata inflators to nearly 34 million.
Secretary Foxx also announced that the Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Consent Order to Takata. The Consent Order requires the company to cooperate in all future regulatory actions that NHTSA undertakes in its ongoing investigation and oversight of Takata. In addition, NHTSA announced its intent to begin a formal legal process to organize and prioritize the replacement of defective Takata inflators under the agency's legal authority.
"Today is a major step forward for public safety," Secretary Foxx said. "The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced."
The actions expand regional recalls of Takata passenger-side inflators, currently limited to areas of high absolute humidity, to nationwide recalls involving more than 16 million vehicles. They also expand the current nationwide recall of driver-side inflators to more than 17 million vehicles. It's anticipated that the remedy of vehicles will be prioritized based upon risk, with the vehicles that present the greatest risk in terms of age and geographic location to be serviced first.
"From the very beginning, our goal has been simple: a safe air bag in every vehicle," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. "The steps we're taking today represent significant progress toward that goal. We all know that there is more work to do, for NHTSA, for the auto makers, for parts suppliers, and for consumers. But we are determined to get to our goal as rapidly as possible."
The Department has established a new website, www.SaferCar.gov/RecallsSpotlight, to provide regular updates on the status of this and other recalls and of NHTSA's investigation.
Testing and investigation by Takata, auto manufacturers, and independent researchers have not yet established a definitive root cause of the inflator malfunctions. NHTSA's analysis of test results and engineering reports from independent organizations points to moisture infiltrating the defective inflators over extended periods of time as a factor.
Over time, that moisture causes changes in the structure of the chemical propellant that ignites when an air bag deploys. The degraded propellant ignites too quickly, producing excess pressure that causes the inflator to rupture and sends metal shards into the passenger cabin that can lead to serious injury or death.
The agency already has held informal discussions with auto makers and parts suppliers in an effort to coordinate one of the largest and most complex product recalls in history. NHTSA also plans to issue notice of intent to open a proceeding that would coordinate the remedy program for Takata inflators in order to address the highest risks quickly.
Click here to view NHTSA's microsite on Takata recalls.
Click here to view the consent order.
Click to view the Takata defect notifications: 15E-040; 15E-041; 15E-042; 15E-043.