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Automakers Conduct Their Own Investigation Into Takata Air Bag Problems

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Automakers are taking the Takata air bag problem into their own hands.

As Takata has yet to determine what causes some of their air bags to explode upon deployment, a group of ten automakers has decided to conduct their own investigation into the issue.

The group announced on February 4th, 2015, that they would hire an independent engineering firm and a former top U.S. auto safety regulatory to look into the technical issues occurring with the air bags, in an effort to determine just what is going on.

Takata, meanwhile, stated it supported the investigation, and noted that it is also continuing to test the air bags to discover the “root cause of these issues.”

Why Are Takata Air Bags Exploding?

While millions of Takata air bags are recalled and replaced around the world, the question remains as to just what is causing some to explode so violently. The answer to that question remains unanswered, though there have been many theories:

• Takata has acknowledged that it failed to properly store some propellant, unwittingly exposing it to moisture, which caused problems in the air bags years later.
• A former Takata engineer has stepped forward to claim that the chemical used in Takata airbags—ammonium nitrate—is unstable, and increases risks of explosions.
• Takata told U.S. lawmakers in December 2014 that though they hadn’t identified the root cause of the explosions, they believed they had something to do with high humidity, temperature, and the life of the product.

Despite these theories, there is still no clear-cut answer, which raises another question—are the replacement air bags any safer?

Are the New Air Bags Any Better?

On January 31, 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) pushed for yet another recall of 2.1 million vehicles that had already been recalled and repaired once before. Why? The initial fix didn’t work.

In just under 40 of 400 incidences in which these air bags deployed without reason, the vehicles had already been fixed for air bag problems. In some of these incidences, the air bags exploded, causing injuries like scratches and burns.

Former engineer Mark Lillie, the whistleblower willing to testify for plaintiffs in Takata air bag lawsuits, claim that as long as Takata continues to use ammonium nitrate in their propellants, the air bags will remain unstable, and may continue to explode.

Responsibility Falls to Automakers to Make Corrections

Toyota is leading the group of automakers in their plans to work with an independent engineering firm to dig into the air bag issue. A Toyota spokeswoman told Reuters that they want the firm to “address the technical issues with Takata air bag inflators.”

Automakers are reasonably concerned, since they have had to pick up the slack in helping to replace the faulty air bags. So far, Takata is having trouble meeting demand, and Honda and other automakers have turned to other suppliers for help. In addition, when the NHTSA pushed for a nationwide recall of driver’s side Takata air bags, the company resisted expanding its local recalls. Automakers responded, however, and are now shouldering some of the responsibility and expense of replacing air bags in all 50 states.