30 Million Vehicles Involved in New NHTSA Probe of Takata Air Bag Inflators

More than 200 car models from 20 automakers are being investigated because the air bags could explode and hurl shrapnel

A deployed airbag is seen in a Chrysler vehicle
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Over 30 million air bags in more than 200 models from 20 automakers are being investigated by a U.S. safety agency because they could explode and hurl shrapnel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in a document that it opened the probe into air bag inflators made from 2011 through 2019 by now-bankrupt Takata. The inflators have a moisture-absorbing chemical and were not recalled previously.

It wasn’t clear what prompted the agency to open the investigation. The agency says no safety risk has been identified at present, but it wants to evaluate the inflators.

Takata had used the volatile chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate air bags in a crash. But it was discovered that the chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high heat and humidity. It can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and hurling shrapnel into drivers and passengers.

More than 25 people were killed and more than 300 were injured by metal flying from the airbags, setting off a series of the largest automotive recalls in U.S. history. About 50 million inflators were recalled in the U.S. and another 100 million worldwide.

In later years, Takata added a dessicant to absorb moisture and keep the ammonium nitrate dry. The NHTSA's investigation centers around that dessicant, which it calls “phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate.”

In May of 2020, the NHTSA said that testing by Takata and the Independent Testing Coalition, a group of 10 automakers formed after the inflator problems surfaced, found no other problems with the dessicated ammonium nitrate.

The investigation involves vehicles made by Honda, Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla, Ferrari, Nissan, Mazda, Daimler AG, BMW, Chrysler, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover and others.

A problem with Takata airbags resulted in the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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