Airbag Recall Continues to Explode; Total now 7.8 Million

The airbag recall continues to mushrooming as the number of vehicles involved in the current recall rises to 7.8 million.

airbag recall

Like the subject of the most current National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall, the number of vehicles included in the safety agency’s latest round of callbacks has now reached 7.8 million vehicles.

In a series of escalating recalls since last week, the number of vehicles recalled due to defective Takata airbags has blasted from 4.74 to 7.8 million vehicles in under six days. The action of the industry is unparalleled in modern automotive industry history.

One has to go back more than 30 years to the exploding Pinto gas tank recall, whose impact hit Ford like a fireball, to see the auto industry race to get ahead of the tidal wave of publicity that the airbag recall has generated.

The expansion follows what seems to be an explosion of events that began late last week with Toyota issuing a re-notification and recall of about 267,000 2003 and 2004 Corollas that may have been equipped with faulty airbags made by Takata.

The defective Takata airbags is potentially deadly as it breaks into pieces upon deployment, hurling metal shards around the passenger cabin like shrapnel. If one of the pieces of shrapnel strikes a passenger, it can cause serious wounds or death. So far as many as four people have been reported killed by the airbags.

Toyota’s renotification/recall notice reminds drivers to be sure no one sits in the right front passenger seats because that is the position most affected by the defect. The defect occurs primarily in high-humidity climates where the humidity can damage the airbag, making it potentially lethal. In the United States, the areas primarily affected by the recall include South Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan.

The Toyota announcement was quickly followed by NHTSA action as the safety agency announced that the defective Takata airbags were employed by other automakers, not just Toyota. The agency named the automakers who are feeling the impact of the recall. They include:

• Toyota
• Nissan
• Honda
• Mazda
• Mitsubishi
• Subaru
• Chrysler
• Ford
• General Motors

General Motors announced during the weekend that the 2004 Pontiac Vibe is slated to be recalled because it is affected by the defective airbag. In issuing the first of what could be several recalls, GM’s spokesman Al Slater told Automotive News that the automaker is warning the owners affected by the recall to be sure that no one sits in the front passenger seat. He also noted that the automaker is encouraging customers to have the recall work completed as quickly as possible. GM is sending overnight letters to owners advising them of the problem.

As the recall churned through the industry and into the early part of this week, NHTSA further expanded the recall to 6.1 million vehicles. NHTSA, too, is urging owners affected by the recall to have their vehicles inspected and repaired as quickly as possible. It is possible that as many as 7.2 million vehicles may face recall.

According to the Business Insider, the reason the airbag recall has taken on a life of its own is because it is terrifying on a number of levels. For example, when airbags were first deployed in the automotive fleet they were scene as benevolent guardians of automotive safety.

Most people believed they were little more than fabric-wrapped balloons whose sole purpose was to make people safe in an accident, if they were deployed, by encasing them in a balloon of safety. Airbags were simply thought to do this with few other impacts.

Drivers were never given the facts about how airbags actually worked. Airbags, you see, are devices that require an explosive charge, such as sodium azide, to inflate quickly and work. Airbags are deployed at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. In a small space like a car’s passenger compartment, the airbags would deploy in less than a-fifth of a second. In its rapid deployment, the inflators blast the airbag out of its containers; cause it to inflate and remain inflated just long enough to keep those inside the vehicle where they belong in the car, and then deflate just as quickly.

Nobody gave much thought to the actual mechanism that caused the quick deployment. The auto industry, though, remembering the bungled massive recalls of the past, has been quick to act in trying to get ahead of the recall and stay ahead of it.

That is why the actions in this latest round of recalls have come so swiftly. As noted, in little more than six days, the recall has blasted past the 6.1 million vehicle mark set only a day ago and is now approaching 8 million vehicles.

According to the Business Insider, the defective airbags, as noted, affect primarily vehicles in high-humidity areas. The reason for this is that they are built in dry venues such as Mesa, Ariz., where the conditions are just right for their manufacture. Typically built away from high-population areas, airbag plants are set in those locations so that a blast there won’t affect many. Further, the dry location aids the manufacture and packing of the airbag inflator.

Due to the location of their plants airbags, in high-humidity areas, tend to degrade faster and become defective. The known defect causes the inflators to blast through their housings and send shrapnel shooting toward the driver or occupants. This can have deadly consequences.

According to NHTSA, so far four deaths have been attributed to the faulty Takata airbags, two in 2009, one last year and most recently this month in South Florida where a 52-year-old motorist was severely injured by a failing airbag. The motorist sustained massive injuries to the throat. Florida State Patrol officials and the medical examiner agreed that the while the airbag injuries were quite severe, the driver may have survived them had it not been for the severe head injuries received as the 2001 Honda plowed into a line of cars.

Marc Stern has spent more than 40 years in and around cars. His work has included answering motorist questions, motor vehicle reviews and evaluation and writing dealers, consumer and industry news pieces. In addition, Mr. Stern has contributed to well-known automotive publications including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek and Old Cars Weekly, among others.

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