Takata airbag recall will take years to complete

December 12, 2016

The massive, record-breaking recall of Takata's fatally flawed airbags began years ago, but given the size of the task and the irregular availability of replacement parts, it's been slow going. Things could speed up a bit, however, thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and an updated list of requirements for automakers.

Issued on Friday, NHTSA's Amended Coordinated Remedy Order establishes clear timelines for car companies to acquire replacement parts and repair affected vehicles. In fact, it accelerates the schedule that NHTSA had previously established for the 19 automakers involved in the recall. 

The Order prioritizes repair of the "riskiest vehicles". Those are typically vehicles that have a history of ruptured airbags or those registered/sold in states with high ambient humidity, like those along the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

The Order also establishes new standards for automakers to use in reporting their progress to NHTSA and in communicating with consumers. 

To date, some 46 million Takata airbag inflators in 29 million U.S. vehicles have been recalled. Roughly 12.5 million of those inflators--27 percent--have been replaced.

The number of inflators and vehicles involved in the recall is expected to grow dramatically over the next three years, reaching a total of 69 million inflators in 42 million U.S. cars. Under the best of circumstances, it seems unlikely that the majority of vehicles will be fixed before the early 2020s.

Takata's recalled inflators make use of ammonium nitrate to deploy airbags during collisions. Unfortunately, that compound can be very dangerous when it becomes destabilized. (You might recall that it was used in the Oklahoma City bombing 20 years ago.)

Specifically, studies have shown that the ammonium nitrate in Takata's inflators can become destabilized due to three factors: age, heat, and humidity. When that happens, the company's airbags can rupture upon deployment, spraying vehicle occupants with hot shrapnel. 

As of today, Takata inflators have been conclusively linked to 11 deaths and roughly 180 injuries in the U.S. alone.

For plenty of backstory on the Takata fiasco, click here. To see if your vehicle might be affected by the Takata recalls, visit NHTSA's dedicated Takata page, and be sure to look up your vehicle on the agency's VIN database

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