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16th Death Linked To Takata Airbag Blast; Owners Should Have Repairs ASAP

With the 16th fatality linked to an exploding Takata airbag inflator, motorists are reminded to have their vehicles repairs as quickly as possible, if they have received a recall notice. The latest fatality occurred in Malaysia, the fourth there this year.

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If your car is one of the millions that has been called back in the massive Takata airbag inflator recall and if you are thinking of putting it off, do yourself a favor, don’t. While the big news recently has been the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) findings that 660 of the airbag inflators it has tested exploded, a news report slipped in late last week that showed a 16th death had been linked to the exploding devices.

According to reports from Reuters, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, a driver was killed in a crash last week involving a 2009 Honda City, a vehicle sold only overseas. Recall notices had been issued for the vehicle involved. However, the vehicle had not yet been repaired. The crash occurred in southern Malaysia’s Johor Province.

Airbag Inflator Rupture Confirmed

According to Honda Malaysia, the automaker, working with police, confirmed that the airbag inflator had, indeed, ruptured. Authorities, however, have not finished their investigation into the crash so there is no official cause of death.

The fatality was the fourth in Malaysia this year involving Takata-built airbags. Estimates of the total number of devices involved in the recalls could exceed 100 million airbag inflators worldwide. Since the most recent safety campaign began last year, nearly 70 million airbags have been recalled in the United States.

The continuing recall campaign has hit the airbag manufacturer exceptionally hard. Takata, which has ramped up its resources to meet the demand for replacement part kits, has apparently found itself in worsening financial shape and has been looking for buyers. Stories appeared last week that indicated it was talking with one or two primary candidates.

The U.S. Justice Department has been conducting an ongoing criminal probe with which Takata has said it is cooperating fully. The airbag manufacturer is working with prosecutors to resolve any allegations of criminal wrongdoing. No specific charges or penalties have reportedly been discussed or determined. A Takata spokesman had no comment.

The airbag manufacturer has already admitted its products are faulty and subject to recall in a consent agreement with NHTSA. In the agreement, Takata also agreed to a series of phased recalls over the next couple of years so that it can meet the demand for parts. It has also agreed to phase out the use of the propellant blamed as the cause of the exploding airbag inflators, ammonium nitrate unless it is used with a desiccant. The desiccant seems to stabilize the propellant that deteriorates under exposure to moisture. The moisture intrusion has occurred due to improperly sealed inflators, investigators have found.

Record NHTSA Fine

So far, Takata has also been fined a record amount by the safety agency -- $110 million – and a monitor may be named to ensure Takata in its compliance with the decree.

Although 17 automakers are directly involved in the recall, Honda has found itself the most severely affected. The reason for the impact is that Honda used Takata as its sole source supplier – beginning in 2000 -- until late last year when it pulled the plug. Honda does have a one percent stake in Takata, as well. Honda now uses Daicel, Autoliv and ZF/TRW as its sources.

So far, there have been 15 confirmed deaths related to the airbag recall crisis worldwide. The deaths have occurred when the airbags have deployed with too much force, causing the inflator housing to burst, spewing shards of metal and plastic throughout the interior of the impacted vehicle. The defective devices have also maimed at least 100 victims worldwide.

Investigators have found that the cause, as noted, is moisture intrusion. It causes the propellant, ammonium nitrate, to deteriorate over time. As it deteriorates, the propellant becomes more potent, yielding a blast that is capable of shattering the metal housing. Both driver and passenger airbags and inflators have been affected by the issue.

NHTSA Inflator Findings

Last week, the NHTSA announced its explosive findings in urging vehicle owners to have their vehicles repaired as soon as possible if they have received a recall notice. There are also 300,000 2001-03 Honda Civics that appear to be at higher risk of failure than others. NHTSA says that risk is so great, the owners should stop driving their vehicles and have them towed in to have them fixed, if they haven’t driven them in to be repaired yet.

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Mark Day (not verified)    October 4, 2016 - 2:33PM

In this totalitarian world, where irrationality prevails, common sense solutions are verboten. In this instance, vehicle passengers, who are using safety belts, don't need the "protection" of exploding airbags. Solution: disconnect the airbags until replacements are available.

Marc Stern    October 4, 2016 - 3:39PM

That is a thought, but, will the seatbelt tensioners work if the airbags have been disconnected? If they are on the same circuit, which makes sense as one would activate the other in a crash, I suppose that would be the way they work and then if you disconnect the airbags you may be disconnecting a device that is a pretty good backup to the airbag as I found out about a year and a half ago when my car his some ice, spun out and slammed a guardrail. Car was totalled, airbag kept me from flying into a marsh. It wasn't a Takata. It smelled like sodium azide, a much better and stable propellant.

Marc Stern    October 4, 2016 - 10:44PM

If I was restrained only by the belts I would have been sore in my hips and shoulder. I wasn't. The airbag kept me in place for the milliseconds of crash impact. As I said, though, it was a sodium azide unit because it smell just like one (yes, I have been exposed to odor before). BTW, my hands were in the wrong position and my thumbs still ache from the whacking they took. You do have to drive with your hands in different positions.

FYI, I have used my belts since they were mandated in the 1960s when I was first licensed.