Takata airbags biggest vehicle recall in American history

  • 05/05/2016
Takata airbags biggest vehicle recall in American history

United States officials say 40 million more airbags made by Japanese company Takata need fixing, leading to the biggest vehicle recall in American history.

Worldwide, 11 people have died and 100 have been injured because of a deadly flaw in the airbags -- but no recall order has yet been issued in New Zealand.

US national highway traffic safety administrator Mark Rosekind said today the effort to replace defective Takata airbags has to move faster, even though the task is monumental.

Replacement inflators need to be specifically engineered for each of the affected vehicle models.

The problem is ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical the Takata corporation began using more than 15 years ago in order to cut costs.

Ammonium nitrate breaks down over time, especially in high-heat, high-humidity climates. That can cause the airbag inflator to malfunction, potentially sending shrapnel though the vehicle.

More than 8 million inflators have been replaced so far, but that's fewer than 12 percent of the total number of vehicles involved.

Making the fixes has not been easy. Drivers across the US have been calling and waiting.

In addition to the deaths, hundreds of injuries have been linked to the faulty inflators, including the airbag explosion that left a hole in Angela Sujata's chest.

"Everyone kept telling me airbags don't do that", Ms Sujata says. "The problem is these ones are, and that's not right. That's not okay."

At the current rate, airbag fixes won't be completed for more than three years.

Mr Rosekind says he sympathises.

"My family has a vehicle with a Takata inflator that's sitting in our driveway, so I fully understand the frustration."

Rosekind said Takata may be turning a corner in terms of dealing with the problem, but it might be too late. There are questions about whether the company, which is based in Japan, can survive the crisis.

If they can't, it's not clear who will pay for the millions of fixes that still need to be made.

CBS News