The Takata airbag recall is a complicated thing -- too complicated for many consumers and more than a few legislators. According to Auto News, though, the process could soon get a lot simpler very soon, as rumors swirl about Takata's willingness to declare that its driver-side airbags are just as faulty as the ones on the passenger-side.
PROBLEM #1: REGIONAL RECALLS
Roughly 16 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled due to airbags manufactured by Takata during the early part of this century. Dozens of those bags have exploded upon deployment, and in some cases, vehicle occupants have been pelted with metal shrapnel from the devices. Five deaths have been linked to the airbags, four of which occurred in the U.S.
The problem with the devices seems to be humidity, which has an adverse effect on the ammonium nitrate Takata used to deploy the airbags. When exposed to persistent humidity, the ammonium nitrate can become unstable, causing it to explode with greater force than Takata expected, ripping airbags and sending shards of the device into the air.
That's led automakers to push for regional recalls of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags, focusing efforts on cars sold or registered in states along the humid Gulf Coast and in territories like Puerto Rico and Guam. Regional recalls aren't especially unusual -- we see them all the time to fix corrosion problems brought on by de-icing salts used in northern states. Unfortunately for Takata, though, there have been reports of exploding airbags outside the recall zone.
That, in turn, has caused U.S. legislators to call for a nationwide recall of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags.
PROBLEM #2: DRIVER-SIDE ISSUES
As if that weren't complicated enough, the Takata recalls to date have focused solely on replacing passenger-side airbags. That's made consumers nervous -- especially in light of new reports of faulty driver-side airbags.
Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a very sternly worded letter to Takata, demanding that the company declare its driver-side airbags flawed, too, and the agency set a deadline of today for Takata to do so. If Takata complies, it would clear the way for a recall of driver-side devices.
Based on an insider report published earlier today in Japan's Nikkei, Takata is preparing to do as NHTSA has asked. Though that hasn't yet been confirmed by anyone at Takata, it appears that Takata will not only agree that its driver-side airbags are just as faulty as those made for use on the passenger-side, but the company will also state that its airbags are flawed, regardless of atmospheric humidity.
Should that happen, it would dramatically enlarge the size of the airbag recall, affecting vehicles registered in every state and territory. It would also enlarge the scope of the recall by adding driver-side airbags to the action, sending many owners who've already had their vehicles repaired back to dealerships for a second airbag replacement.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
Before you start worrying about exploding airbags, check this list to see if your vehicle is equipped with Takata's faulty airbags. (With the exception of the Honda Element, recalls are limited to vehicles from the 2008 model year and earlier.)
If your car is on that list, you may have already received a recall notice in the mail if you live in a recall zone. If so -- and if Takata agrees that its driver-side devices are faulty -- you'll likely get a second recall notice.
If your car is on that list and you haven't received a recall notice yet, that's likely because you live in an area outside the recall zone. Depending on whether Takata agrees that its airbags are faulty regardless of humidity, you may receive a recall notice from your automaker.
Most importantly, if you drive a vehicle on the recall list, try to be patient and calm. It will likely take some time for Takata to manufacture replacement parts for every vehicle affected. (Takata has said that it would require two years.) We're very hopeful that Takata and automakers can devise a workaround that keeps drivers and passengers safe in the meantime.