Expanded Recall Of Takata Airbags Crashes NHTSA Website, Heavier Traffic To Come Next Week

May 22, 2015

The Takata airbag recall isn't just the largest recall in automotive history. As we mentioned earlier this week, it's one of the largest recalls, period.

That's because, after months of dragging its feet and racking up $14,000-a-day fines for failure to cooperate with regulators, Takata has finally agreed to the Department of Transportation's demands for an expansion of the airbag recall here in the U.S. And as Detroit News explains, news of Takata's surrender promptly crashed portions of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website.  

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If you've somehow missed all the details about the Takata recall, here are a few bulletpoints to bring you up to speed:

  • At the end of the 20th century and for the first several years of the 21st (until about 2008), Takata made airbag systems using a formulation of ammonium nitrate that can become very unstable when exposed to moisture, including atmospheric humidity.
  • As a result, some of Takata's airbags have exploded upon deployment, spewing shrapnel throughout the vehicles and injuring -- and in at least six cases, killing -- the very people they were meant to protect.
  • Here in the U.S., NHTSA has wanted Takata to order recalls of all driver-side devices, but the agency has been willing to let some passenger-side devices remain as-is. For the most part, passenger-side airbag recalls have been focused on states with high humidity, like those along the Gulf Coast.  
  • That's made things very, very confusing for owners of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. Those who live in Florida, for example, have needed to get both devices replaced. Those in, say, Nebraska, have only had driver-side devices changed out. Though some automakers have voluntarily replaced passenger-side airbags across the country, others have been very reluctant to do so.
  • Throughout all of this, Takata has insisted -- or tried to insist -- that there was no clear evidence about the cause of its airbag failures. As a result, it's refused to expand the scope of recalls, even though we now know that 265 of the company's airbags exploded during recent tests.
  • NHTSA has been slow to act, but it's gradually put the pressure on Takata, until this week, something finally happened. 

That "something" was announced on Tuesday via a press release from the DOT:

"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."

And that's when the website outages began.
 
 
Immediately after NHTSA's press release was picked up in the media, traffic on the agency's recall website surged, reaching volumes up to 50 times heavier than normal. In total, more than 598,000 owners ran VIN searches on the site on Wednesday, besting the previous all-time high recorded the day before, when 571,000 consumers ran lookup requests. (Before that, the site had been averaging just shy of 10,000 daily searches.)

Thankfully, the site never crashed entirely, as it did last year, when Takata's airbags first began to make headlines. However, some functionality was lost during the rush. NHTSA is beefing up the site to ensure that it stays up and running smoothly.

And rest assured, the site will need as much bandwidth as it can muster next week, when automakers begin updating their lists of recalled vehicles, eliminating geographic restrictions and making them applicable nationwide. We'll publish those updates as soon as they're posted.

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