Just what is going on in the Takata airbag safety recall? A couple of years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agreed that the recall would end at the end of last year. And, here we are at the beginning of 2023 with another automaker recalling vehicles to meet the demands of a recall that began nearly two decades ago.
Volkswagen Beetles, Beetle Convertibles Involved
According to paperwork filed with the federal safety agency, nearly 38,000 2015-2016 Volkswagen Beetle and Beetle Convertibles have been recalled addressing the long-standing problem with the driver-side airbag inflators. The problem began more than a decade ago when several recall campaigns that involved Takata airbag inflators turned into a significant recall campaign. The campaign ultimately became the largest safety recall in NHTSA/industry history.
Since 2008 when Takata, whose fortunes ultimately ended up in bankruptcy as the scale of the recall continued to grow to the point where more than 67 million airbag inflators were involved in the United States and more than 100 million worldwide. It is a vast problem that resulted from some poor business decisions by Takata, a former major airbag manufacturer. At one time, Takata was the number two airbag manufacturer.
At issue now is the scope of the seemingly never-ending recall. This time, as noted, Volkswagen is recalling about 38,000 Beetles. The Beetles suffer from the same potential problem that is facing millions of car owners the world over, exploding airbag inflator housings. Indeed, it did take a major investigation that resulted from the performance of Takata’s airbags. Affecting 20 major manufacturers, including Ford and Stellantis, the problem resulted from not only where the airbags were manufactured but also the conditions surrounding how the airbags were put together, as well as the choice of the propellant used to inflate the bags.
While much of the industry moved to sodium azide in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Takata stayed with a cheaper alternative, ammonium nitrate. In itself, there should have been no problem with the propellant. However, when you look at the manufacturing environment and the problems the airbag inflators faced, you understand why the recall began and continues. You see, Takata built the airbag inflators in Mexico. The manufacturing environment was uniformly hot and sticky. Further, Takata’s manufacturing process wasn’t terribly clean at the two Mexican factories where the airbags were built. The manufacturing process was constantly hindered by dirt, dust, and other detritus collected in the housings. Over time, moisture began to seep through the imperfectly closed airbags, and the ammonium nitrate began to deteriorate. As it deteriorated, it became far more powerful, and the recall was born.
Takata Tried Several Times To Remedy Problem
Takata tried recall after recall, but it was to no avail. They also tried at least three significant upgrades to their inflators and housings. Still, nothing worked, and more automakers became involved in the recall to the point where it has grown into the largest safety recall in history.
This Volkswagen recall follows recent recalls by Ford and Stellantis. The Ford and Stellantis recalls are also part of the Takata recall. Indeed, the recalls by Ford and Stellantis are more severe as they involve fatalities. Ford recorded another fatality in a 2006 Ranger pickup, while Stellantis, the successor to Chrysler and Fiat-Chrysler, recorded three more fatalities over the summer. More than 30 fatalities have been reported relating to this recall, and hundreds have been injured seriously.
The Volkswagen recall is a continuation of one that began eight years ago. The recall paperwork notes that the driver’s side airbag inflator in VW Beetles and Beetle Convertibles may explode due to propellant degradation after long-term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures, and high-temperature cycling. The propellant deteriorates to the point where it becomes more powerful so that when an airbag is deployed, it will burst the inflator housing, sending shrapnel-like shards of metal scything through the interior of the vehicle, often with deadly effect.
VW will notify owners of the affected vehicles beginning Feb. 17, 2023. The notification letter will tell the owners when to schedule a free-of-charge driver’s side airbag replacement.
Consumer Contact Information
For more information, owners can contact VW customer service at 800-893-5298. The Volkswagen ID number for this is 69EM. Or, owners can contact the NHTSA’s Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. Or owners can visit the agency’s website www.nhtsa.gov. The NHTSA identification number for this recall is 22V945.
Marc Stern has been an automotive writer since 1971 when an otherwise normal news editor said, "You're our new car editor," and dumped about 27 pounds of auto stuff on my desk. I was in heaven as I have been a gearhead from my early days. As a teen, I spent the usual number of misspent hours hanging out at gas stations (a big thing in my youth) and working on cars. From there on, it was a straight line to my first column for the paper, "You Auto Know," an enterprise I handled faithfully for 32 years. Not many people know that I also handled computer documentation for a good part of my earnings while writing YAN. My best writing, though, was always in cars. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, etc. You can follow me on: Twitter or Facebook.