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2.7 million more Takata airbags recalled, safety still elusive

The ongoing saga of the defective Takata airbag inflators reached a new level recently, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Takata to recall an additional 2.7 million inflators. These, unfortunately, contained the desiccant that was supposed to keep moisture from damaging them. Since adding a desiccant is the fix for the previously repaired airbags, the replacement airbags may also contain defective components.

As you may know, Takata declared bankruptcy last month. This was not expected to impact consumers’ ability to obtain a replacement airbag, but merely to continue shifting the costs from Takata to automakers. Almost 20 carmakers have been affected.

The underlying issue, according to Reuters, is that Takata is the only airbag manufacturer to use ammonium nitrate as the propellant in its airbag inflators. Ammonium nitrate can be volatile when exposed to damp.

Takata says that the recall NHTSA ordered last week affected airbag inflators with a desiccant, or drying agent. However, the recalled versions used calcium sulfate, while the vast majority contain zeolite. Takata says it has produced some 100 million replacement airbags, only 2.7 million of which contained calcium sulfate.

NHTSA isn’t so sure. “Absent proof that the other desiccated inflators are safe, they will also be subject to recall,” it said last week in a statement.

“We still have to prove the safety of our desiccated inflators, but we believe those using zeolite are safer than those using calcium sulfate,” said a Takata spokesperson.

It’s true that the newly recalled, calcium sulfate-desiccated airbags have not been associated with any injuries or deaths. However, Reuters points out that the original problem wasn’t obvious at first, but took five years or longer to emerge.

Automakers could find themselves on the hook for more recalls and replacements if Takata is unable to prove that zeolite provides a safe environment for the ammonium nitrate-based inflators.

Worse, many automakers have been forced to use newer versions of recalled airbags as replacements in the recall.

Honda, Toyota and Nissan have all pledged not to use Takata inflators in new contracts for their vehicles, but that’s not saying much, since Takata has declared bankruptcy. Another auto components supplier has agreed to buy Takata but will be winding down its airbag business once all of the necessary replacements have been manufactured.

The bottom line for consumers is that these airbags with defective inflators need to be replaced as soon as possible. To find out if your vehicle has a defective Takata airbag, call any dealer of your car’s manufacture. Or, check NHTSA’s online VIN lookup tool.

If your vehicle is affected, take immediate steps to get in line for a replacement.