NHTSA Expands Investigation Into Takata Airbag Failures

| November 9, 2015 | Comments (0)

VIDEO: Slow-motion video of Takata airbag inflator testing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded the investigation it has been conducting into the defective Takata airbags involved in the biggest auto recall in U.S. history.

In October of 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it had made plans to expand the investigation of defective Takata airbags to include 7 additional car companies. Airbags manufactured by Takata have been found to sometimes explode when inflating, resulting in occupants suffering severe lacerations and wrongful deaths.

In 2014, nearly 34 million vehicles with affected airbags were recalled, but this number is expected to rise as more affected vehicles are discovered. In the initial stages, regulators focused on airbags on the driver and front passenger areas, but since then they have redirected that focus to include both side airbags as well as the inclusion of newer cars that were not included in the original recall.

The Ongoing Investigation

Takata is in the process of conducting its own investigation into the causes of the airbag failures, while regulators have hired several research organizations (including Battelle) to work on the development of a detailed analysis. The process includes conducting substantial lot tests which allows the testing of dozens of airbags in succession rather than simple individual tests. This process allows them to test a couple thousand airbags every day; a much more efficient method considering the airbags’ failure potential.

The most likely method for discovering information related to the defective inflators is through the use of a CT scan. In some of the Takata airbags, the explosive charge that is supposed to activate the airbags ruptures the metal wall surrounding the container that holds the charge instead of allowing it to launch normally. One of the important things the scans have shown is those wafers that are abnormally large or are deformed when viewed in the CT scan are the most likely ones to rupture violently.

Ongoing Investigation and Plans

In addition to the car models that have already been identified in the Takata airbag recall, General Motors is also recalling some 2015 model vehicles due to the potential for airbags to explode upon deployment. While statistics show that the airbag inflators are believed to be the cause of at least eight deaths and over 100 injuries, fewer than 25 percent of the recalled vehicles have undergone repairs after more than a year.

In order to decrease the turnaround time for the set up process, the agency is considering an accelerated remedy. Currently, only auto dealerships are permitted to perform the repairs. The NHTSA recommends that owners repair the airbags as soon as possible, and to avoid servicing your airbags with anyone except an authorized dealer.

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