Some improperly manufactured air bags carry a risk of exploding and releasing shrapnel, posing a serious safety threat to drivers and passengers. However, automakers seem to be at a loss for how to stop it.
The air bags in question are manufactured by Taka Corporation, which is based in Japan and remains the world’s No. 2 maker of auto safety components. Honda Motor Company and Nissan Motor Company issued recalls for nearly 3 million vehicles worldwide due to these faulty air bags. Over the past five years, more than 10 million vehicles have been recalled due to Takata air bags.
Takata spokespeople say the hazardous air bags were manufactured between 2000 and 2002, and the air bag inflators were produced incorrectly and the records went missing. Assembly of the air bags—which took place at auto plants in the United States and Mexico—involved dangerous explosives to a certain degree. In 2013, more than 4 million vehicles were recalled due to the defect, adding up to a $300 million price tag for Takata.
However, it seems that initial recalls did not reach far enough. According to a report from Reuters, a 10-year-old Honda Fit was involved in an accident in 2013 in western Japan. The side air bag exploded, and the metal ejected by the air bag was hot enough to set fire to the instrument panel and glove compartment. Honda engineers worked to identify if more defective parts were in play, but after six months of trying to replicate the explosion, they were still stumped.
One major roadblock to investigating these defective parts is shoddy record-keeping. Reuters reported that Takata discovered a problem with record-keeping at its plant in Monclava, Mexico, which kept incomplete records and makes investigating more difficult.
Takata told the National HIghway Transportation Safety Administration in a June letter that it would support replacements of driver-side air bag inflators made between January 2004 and June 2007 in certain vehicles, as well as passenger side air bag inflators manufactured between June 2000 and July 2004.
However, Takata has yet to understand the full extent of the problem or admit the extent of the safety risk.
“(N)either Takata nor the vehicle manufacturers conducting these field actions would be expected to admit that its product contain such a defect,” the company said in the letter.
These recalls come at a time when American drivers are already on edge about defective car parts. General Motors has been under intense scrutiny for several months after a faulty ignition switch was allowed on the market, leading to more than a dozen deaths.