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Steven Cohn
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Takata Total Recall—Coming Soon?

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Might there be a total Takata air bag recall coming in the future?

The question hangs over regulators, Congress, and other concerned citizen’s groups who worry that there are still vehicles on the road that contain potentially dangerous Takata air bags that could explode and injure vehicle occupants.

So far, over 24 million vehicles have been affected by Takata air bag recalls, with both the air bag company and auto makers encouraging consumers to bring their vehicles in for repairs. The air bag inflators can, under certain circumstances, explode upon deployment, sending dangerous pieces of shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Already the air bags have been linked with at lest 10 deaths and over 100 injuries.

Yet there are an estimated 50 million Takata air bag inflators still out there that have not been recalled. Are those drivers at risk?

Recalls Implemented in Reaction to Accidents and Tests

According to the Consumerist, federal regulators have already hinted at a total recall. Fourteen automakers are involved in making repairs, but the recalls so far have come in piecemeal fashion, a few hundred thousand here, a few hundred thousand there, and then another few million. Just recently, General Motors announced another recall of about 200,000 of its Saturn and Saab vehicles.

So far, the recalls have been reactions to either news of Takata air bag related deaths, or to air bag test results. Takata, automakers, and independent entities are now testing the air bags in an attempt to find out exactly what causes them to explode. Though there are known factors—such as age, high temperatures and high humidities, manufacturing defects, and the unstable chemical ammonium nitrate—there is still no clear explanation of how these factors may come together to cause an air bag to rupture.

When test results or accidents reveal yet another air bag that presents a risk, regulators and automakers respond with recalls. It started with driver’s side frontal air bags, but now has expanded to passenger-side frontal air bags, and even some side air bags.

Should regulators just bring them all back in to be replaced?

Congress Doesn’t Want to Wait

So far, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that there is not enough data yet to justify a total recall. But they haven’t ruled it out.

Part of the problem is that handling the current recalls is proving difficult. Automakers have had to pull in other air bag manufacturers to meet demand, and even with the NHTSA prodding Takata with fines and deadlines, it’s expected that it will be years before all the vehicles that are currently under recalls will be repaired.

The NHTSA’s response at this time has been to give Takata until 2018 to fix the exploding air bags, or to implement a total recall. Florida Senator Bill Nelson expressed his concerns about the whole thing in a letter to the administration, urging them to just repair all Takata air bags, because right now, consumers are confused.

Should they be repairing their vehicles or not?

It’s one thing to check the NHTSA’s recall site to see if one’s car is under recall. It’s another to actually get the repair completed. Many auto dealers still don’t have the parts they need. Estimates are that suppliers can make only 1.5 million a month.

As for those cars that contain Takata air bags but haven’t yet been recalled? It can be difficult for owners to figure it out. They have to check with the automaker for the information, but if the company doesn’t readily reveal the information, a consumer can be left wondering. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) asked that Takata be forced to publish all makes and models containing the air bags (starting with the year 2000), but that hasn’t happened yet.