Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a 2.8 million-vehicle expansion of the already-massive Takata airbag recall. The bulk of the expansion affected Ford vehicles--something to which Ford now objects, as does Mazda.
However, Nissan has said that it will comply with NHTSA's request. Today, documents related to the Nissan recall were published on the agency's website.
The recall affects the 2007-2011 Nissan Versa Sedan and 2007-2012 Nissan Versa Hatchback. As expected, the recall is being issued to replace the driver-side frontal airbag inflator. That device uses ammonium nitrate, which has proven to be unstable when exposed to high levels of heat and humidity. When they become destabilized, the inflators can explode as airbags deploy, sending hot shrapnel through the airbag and putting the lives of passengers at risk.
Technically speaking the inflators in the Versa Sedan and Hatchback contain a desiccant, which is meant to minimize the effect of moisture on the ammonium nitrate. However, NHTSA's defect report indicates that the calcium sulfate Takata used as a desiccant in these particular inflators may not work as intended: "some of the Nissan inflators analyzed within the population show a pattern of propellant density reduction over time that may predict a future risk of inflator rupture."
NHTSA is careful to note that the airbags using this particular desiccant "have had zero ruptures in ballistic test deployments." However the documents also point out that "one Nissan inflator exhibited an elevated internal pressure during the deployment testing," which suggests that there could be trouble around the corner.
Takata inflators without desiccants have been linked to some 18 deaths worldwide and more than 180 injuries.
The Nissan recall affects 515,394 vehicles registered in the U.S. Unfortunately, there aren't enough replacement parts to carry out a full recall on those cars just yet. Owners will receive an interim recall notice by mail in September, followed by a second recall notice when replacement parts become available. NHTSA notes that the replacement parts will not be manufactured by Takata.
If you own one of these vehicles, you're strongly encouraged to have this fix carried out as soon as possible. To date, only about 35 percent of vehicles included in the Takata recall have been repaired in the U.S.
Should you have additional questions, you're encouraged to contact Nissan at 1-800-647-7261. Alternately, you can call NHTSA's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 and ask about safety campaign 17V-449, or click here.