Vehicles by Honda and other car manufacturers could be equipped with dangerous air bags

New recalls in exploding airbag conundrum

Honda and Nissan have issued new recalls for nearly three million vehicles on Monday due to the risk of exploding airbags.

The airbag affair, which has been going on for more than a decade, concerns devices manufactured by Japanese car safety parts maker Takata.

Over the past five years, ten and a half million vehicles have been recalled due to the safety risks, the latest Monday recalls included. The affected vehicles are equipped with airbags manufactured between 2000 and 2007 which may be fitted with botched inflators.

More recalls are likely to follow as Takata said it considers replacing airbag inflators in vehicles manufactured by Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, BMW, Chrysler and Ford and sold in the US market.

Until today’s announcement, Takata seemed to believe it had tackled the crisis, with the previous recall being made in April and May 2013, affecting a record number of vehicles.  

Takata and Honda believe the problem was caused by improper handling of the explosive material used to inflate the airbags in a crash. The companies said two factories in the USA and Maxico fell short of requested standards between 2000 and 2002.

Takata uses ammonium nitrate in its inflators – an explosive and volatile compound highly sensitive to moisture. This compound allows the airbags to inflate in about 40 milliseconds, saving lives in dangerous accidents.

However, it is believed the ammonium nitrate produced for Takata in the Moses Lake plant in Washington and in the Monclova factory in Mexico, was exposed to too much moisture.

The manufacturing glitches meant the inflator propellant could burn too fast and blow apart the metal casing surrounding it, sending out hot gas and shrapnel.

Takata has asked multiple car makers to cooperate on investigations, and those companies could yet make follow-up announcements, said a person knowledgeable about the matter who declined to be named.

Since the 2013 recalls, a further six cases of airbag explosions have been reported in the USA and two in Japan.

In August, an inflator ruptured in a 2005 Honda Civic in the United States, sending a "one-inch piece of shrapnel into the driver's right eye", according to a complaint filed with the NHTSA. In January, a 2002 Toyota Corolla in Shizuoka, Japan, sent hot shrapnel into the car when its airbag exploded. The passenger seat was burned, Toyota said.

The deepening crisis comes at a time when General Motors is under scrutiny over why it took more than a decade to discover a faulty ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths. As automakers promote over-the-horizon breakthroughs such as self-driving cars, the industry's mass safety-related recalls underline how much can still go wrong with some of the cheapest, most established technologies.

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