The name Takata has become familiar to most Americans for all the wrong reasons, and we don’t seem to be done with them yet. In the most recent developments involving the Japanese airbag manufacturer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has handed down a cash fine of $70 million for concealing evidence that it knew its airbags had the potential to explode but continued manufacturing and selling them anyway. An additional $130 million fine will be assessed if Takata fails to fulfill its commitment to fix the problem. A defect that led to the recall of nearly 30 million airbags produced by 12 different vehicle makers—it has been linked to eight deaths and nearly 100 injuries worldwide.
More Bad News for Takata
On the heels of NHTSA’s fine came the news that Honda will no longer use the company’s airbag inflators in their vehicles. All eight deaths linked to Takata airbag explosions occurred in Honda vehicles. Honda has supplied details of their internal investigations into the problems with the airbags to NHTSA. As investigations continue, there is a possibility of more recalls—potentially millions more, according to U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx. The exact cause of the explosions is still unknown and, until the mystery is solved, it is not known how many airbags in cars currently on the roads could still be dangerous. So, how did all this start?
The Early Days of the Takata Airbag Recall
The first sign of trouble with Takata was in 2008 when Honda recalled 4,000 of its 2001 model year Accords and Civics due to the potential for their airbag inflators to produce too much pressure and explode, sending metal fragments into the car. The first death directly linked to this defect was in 2009, when an Oklahoma teenager was killed by an exploding airbag in her 2001 Honda Accord. At that time, Honda and Takata denied fault and settled out of court with the family of the teen for an undisclosed sum. Another death followed later that year, also in a 2001 Accord, but a widespread recall was not issued by Honda until mid-2011. In 2013, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, and BMW added cars to the recall list. NHTSA opened an investigation into whether humidity was a factor in the airbag explosions in June of 2014.
Takata Shows Signs of Negligence
In November of 2014, The New York Times published a story revealing that Takata management had ordered its technicians to destroy laboratory test results that showed signs of cracking in some of its inflators. In response, Democratic lawmakers called for a criminal probe into the company. Shortly after, NHTSA expanded the recall to vehicles nationwide and added Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, and Subaru to the list of automakers tasked with assessing the potential danger of their airbags. Those manufacturers soon issue recalls of their own. On November 20, the U.S. Senate opened a hearing into the crisis and Takata representatives testified that they could not find the “root cause” of the airbag inflator malfunction. In February of 2015, NHTSA fined Takata $14,000 a day for failing to cooperate with the investigation and, finally, in May of 2015, Takata acknowledged that it produced faulty inflators on some if its airbags. The recall expanded again to total a staggering 33.8 million vehicles worldwide.
Aftermath of the Recall
Replacing airbags on 34 million vehicles has proven to be a major problem. While carmakers and media outlets have done a good job of getting information to consumers, replacement parts are in short supply and people are waiting weeks or months for their cars to be repaired. Takata has ramped up production of replacement kits, but is still unable to meet the demand. At this point, it could take years for every defective airbag to be replaced. Other airbag parts suppliers are stepping in to pick up the slack, but, in most cases, the repairs will take time. As age appears to be a factor in the airbag explosions, it is especially important for owners of older models to get their cars in for repair.
With so many vehicles from so many manufacturers affected by this recall, you have likely lost track of whether your car is included. To be on the safe side, find your vehicle identification number (VIN) in the lower driver-side corner of the windshield and type the number into NHTSA’s VIN-lookup tool. If your vehicle is affected, you will be told what to do. Don’t leave your safety to chance. Take the time to find out if you need to take action.