The Takata airbag issue was an international incident that involved 19 automakers having to recall vehicles to replace the driver’s, passenger’s side, or both frontal airbags. The incident was regarded as not only the largest safety based recall in U.S history, but also the most complex due to the immense logistics that were involved.
The airbags which were supplied by Takata had been installed in a variety of cars rolled out since 2002 through 2015 and the reason for this recall was due to how the airbags deployed based on incidences whereby the airbags deployed explosively, resulting in injuries and in some instances, death.
The core of the problem could be traced back to the airbag’s inflator which contains a metal magazine that is loaded with propellant wafers that ignited with excessive explosive force that had the potential to rupture the inflator’s housing resulting in metal projectiles being sprayed into the interior of the vehicle akin to the effects of a hand grenade.
The root cause of the problem had been narrowed down to the ammonium nitrate propellant that was used without a drying agent for chemicals that resulted in 11 deaths and close to 180 injuries in the U.S. This triggered a recall of 42 million vehicles involving more than 65 million airbags needing replacements.
The irony of the situation is largely due to the fact that the airbags that were made compulsory installations since 2012 as a safety device that was intended to protect the occupants of a vehicle turned to be an effective Grim Reaper’s tool.
These standard installations that were deploying explosively even when the vehicle is not involved in a collision (in some instances the airbags were deployed due to heavy bumps or when emergency brakes were applied) made the vehicles that they were installed in practical death traps and some of the deaths have been reported to have happened in Honda cars which came as a shock due to the automotive makers safety track record.
Investigators were initially lead to believe that the issue was due to the improper storage of the propellant chemicals that caused the metal airbag inflators to explode due to excess pressure before misleading them again and pointing their fingers at the weather spurring further recalls before going down a path that scrutinised bad welding joints and chewing gum being culprits when the actual issue was due to the exceedingly high levels of accepted defect rates of a Takata’s factory in Mexico which meant that there were approximately 60 to 80 defective parts for every million airbag inflators that were shipped across the Mexican border.
The study is still ongoing and it has yet to reach a conclusion and submit the findings to the findings to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Another report by the New York Times suggests Takata had full knowledge of the airbag issues by 2004 and were testing airbags to verify the problem secretly and pinpointed the issues to the inflators.
According to the report the engineers were instructed to destroy the evidence connected to their airbag issues four years prior to Takata publicly acknowledging the existence of a fatal issue with their airbags.
Technical assistance with this article provided by JMA Automotive Mechanic Airport West.