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NHTSA Questions 7 More Automakers About Takata Air Bags

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Takata air bag recalls currently affect more than 34 million cars made by about 11 auto manufacturers in the United States. But there may be more.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently sent letters to seven more auto manufacturers because these manufacturers use Takata air bag inflators. The letters were mailed on September 22, 2015 to Volkswagen, Tesla, Volvo, Spartan Motors, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and Suzuki Motor Corp.

In each letter, the NHTSA asked questions designed to gather information about how many Takata air bag inflators these automakers have in their vehicles, and whether they are considering recalls of those vehicles. According to U.S. News, the administration wants to figure out how many more vehicles may need to be recalled for air bag repairs.

Takata Took a Long Time to Expand Air Bag Recalls

Back in June 2015, Takata finally admitted to having manufactured defective air bags, and made a public apology for the problems the devices have caused. So far, at least eight deaths and over 100 injuries have been linked to Takata air bag explosions. For reasons as yet not completely determined, the air bags can explode upon deployment, sending shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Occupants have suffered from vision and hearing loss, knife-like wounds, and excessive bleeding leading to death.

Though Takata expanded its recalls at the same time it issued its apology, the NHTSA has continued to investigate, and has scheduled a public meeting on October 22, 2015, to further delve into the issue. Though it was assumed that only older air bags were problematic and needed to be replaced, a recent incident with a 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan in which the passenger side air bag exploded raised concerns that perhaps even newer Takata air bags could be affected by the same problems.

Takata has stated that age, high temperatures, and high humidities are factors in causing some air bags to explode. For months, they limited their recalls only to regional areas known for being hot and humid.

Former employees of the company revealed that the fuel used in Takata air bag inflators—ammonium nitrate—can be unstable. Both the NHTSA and Congress became concerned when they discovered that this chemical is still being used in some Takata replacement air bags, and have demanded more tests to determine the safety of the ammonium nitrate. In June 2015, Takata promised to reduce the use of the propellant as they move to using more guanidine nitrate.

NHTSA Asking Questions About Ammonium Nitrate

After the October 22, 2015 meeting, the NHTSA could order more recalls. With companies already struggling to keep up with the demand for replacement parts, the administration may also recruit additional air bag manufacturers to help make needed inflators.

In the letters sent out to the seven automakers, the NHTSA also asked which vehicles had Takata air bags with ammonium nitrate as the propellant. They noted that the chemical could degrade over time, and lead to an “overaggressive combustion or potentially cause the inflator to rupture.”

Victims of Takata air bag explosions may be eligible to file lawsuits to recover damages. In February 2015, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all Takata air bag lawsuits in the Southern District of Florida.