Feds believe 85m defective Takata airbags still out there

The latest government accounting finds that Takata would need to recall an additional 85 million airbags if the supplier can't prove they're safe, according to Reuters. The Feds could require Takata to replace all of its parts containing ammonium nitrate propellant; so far, automakers have only fixed vehicles with certain models of the inflators.

An earlier leak about this investigation suggested automakers might need to replace 70 million and 90 million additional inflators. The actual number is right in the heart of that range. Unfortunately, the exact number of vehicles that are potentially affected is harder to estimate because some models may need multiple new parts.

The provisions for this potentially massive recall expansion come from Takata's consent agreement with the Department of Transportation. In addition to a civil penalty as high as $200 million, the supplier must have the parts to fix the affected vehicles by 2019, and it can no longer use ammonium nitrate propellant. The company also must prove non-recalled inflators with the chemical are safe.

"Under the consent order in November, all those inflators must eventually be recalled in the absence of proof they are safe; and that number of inflators that may eventually be recalled under that consent order is in the multiple tens of millions," NHTSA spokesperson Gordon Trowbridge told Autoblog for a previous story.

In February, the Independent Testing Coalition found a combination of three factors lead to the ruptures. The ammonium nitrate propellant is part of the problem. The inflator design, which allows moisture to access the chemical, is a further issue. Finally, exposure to high humidity is partially responsible, too, because ammonium nitrate explodes differently when wet.

Ten people in the US have died from the rupturing inflators. The most recent fatality occurred on March 31 when a high school senior died in an accident. There have also been over 100 injuries.

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