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The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

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The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

What’s going on?

Car makers have recalled more than 100 million cars around the globe to replace potentially deadly airbag components built by Takata, a parts supplier to many major manufacturers.

The company is responsible for airbag inflators that have killed at least a dozen people worldwide, injuring scores more.

As far as we know, no one has been hurt by a faulty Takata airbag in Australia.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

But well more than one million cars have been recalled by 13 manufacturers in 55 campaigns that affect models ranging from the humble Honda Jazz to Ferrari’s 458 Italia supercar.

Australia’s first recall saw just two cars – a 2001 Nissan Pulsar, and 2001 Nissan Patrol – called in for attention in 2010.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Fast forward seven years and the recalls are still rolling in regularly. Subaru announced on Wednesday that it will recall a further 33,228 vehicles to replace potentially faulty parts, taking its total beyond 175,000 cars in Australia. Toyota recalled 119,000 cars a week before that, pushing its local tally to 582,000 vehicles in need of attention.

Why the big deal?

Millions of people are driving around in cars that could kill them.

The ammonium nitrate airbag inflators used by Takata are susceptible to moisture damage that can make them explode in an uncontrolled fashion, turning dashboard trim into lethal shrapnel.

US police investigating the 2014 death of Florida resident Hien Tran reportedly searched for evidence relating to the “apparent stab wounds” she suffered as a result of a malfunctioning airbag in her Honda Accord.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Huma Hanif. Photos: Facebook, Police.

Two years later, 17-year-old Texas student Huma Hanif (pictured) was killed when shrapnel propelled by the airbag in her Honda Civic severed her jugular vein and carotid artery.

Police said a minor collision triggered her car’s airbag, which then sent metal fragments flying throughout the car and into her neck.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 11 people have died in America as a result of the faulty airbags. Takata has been blamed for other fatalities around the world, including the death of a Honda-driving Malaysian woman and her unborn baby in 2014.

It doesn’t help that Takata has been accused of covering up data that revealed its airbags were unsafe, failing to inform authorities and car companies of potential risks until people died.

Takata’s choice of chemical inflator is at the core of the issue. FCA, parent company to a handful of companies including Alfa Romeo and Jeep, says Takata’s non-desiccated ammonium nitrate inflators “may degrade after several years of exposure to high absolute humidity’, and that “such degradation may cause inflators to deploy with excessive force”.

FCA no longer uses that type of inflator in US-built vehicles, which have also been ditched by Honda models such as the new Civic.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Volatile: One woman died and four people were hurt when a truck carrying Takata inflators exploded in Texas in 2016.

Who cares?

Lots of people. Customers, car companies, legislators, lawyers, police and more have spoken out about the issue.

Takata certainly cares about the issue, having apologised and pleaded guilty to charges in the US that will cost it $US 1 billion in fines and restitution.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Takata chief executive Shigehisa Takada. Photo: Reuters

Car companies care, having risked the safety of customers before inconveniencing them – sometimes more than once – with a series of recalls.

And motorists care about the issue, as it has potentially put them in harms’ way.

A lack of availability for replacement airbags has been a key concern, with some customers asked to wait months for replacement units.

Victorian resident Martin Daly contacted drive in 2015 after Honda was able to say when new airbag inflators for his Accord Euro would become available.

“I’m now forced to drive a potentially unsafe car, a potentially lethal car with a explosive device in it, a deathtrap,” he said.

“It’s wrong for us to be expected to drive potentially dangerous cars… We are now driving potential bombs that could blow up in our faces.”

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

More recently, Subaru customer Liam O got in touch to complain about a lack of transparency in Subaru’s communication with owners. While Subaru’s US arm clearly states that there is a deadly risk to vehicles affected by the issue, Subaru Australia tells customers that the issue increases “the risk of injury”.

“I feel they have handled it badly,” he says.

“When they said there was a higher risk of injury, I assumed it would be because the effectiveness of the airbag was diminished.

“This wasn’t about diminished effectiveness of an airbag, this was about turning the passenger side into a literal shotgun seat. I definitely won’t feel safe with someone sitting in the passenger seat of my car until this is fixed.”

A spokesman for Subaru says “language regarding the Takata airbag recalls is consistent with multiple other brands subject to the same recalls in the Australian market”.

Say what…

Texas resident Rudy Torres witnessed the crash that killed Huma Hanif:

     “It was a minor accident, fender-bender. She should have walked away from the accident. She had a deep laceration on the side of her throat.”

Takata chief executive Shigehisa Takada:

     “I feel sorry our products hurt customers, despite the fact that we are a supplier of safety products.”

US motorist Corey Burdick, pleading with motorists to have their cars seen to:

     “I lost my eye because of a defective airbag. Take your car in today so this doesn’t happen to you.”

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Corey Burdick appeared in a video asking owners to have airbags replaced.

What next?

Car companies affected by the issue have been racing to repair vehicles across Australia.

Honda has been hit harder than most manufacturers by the issue, which requires its Australian team to replace more than 650,000 airbag inflators in 426,198 local vehicles.

Technicians have rectified nearly 400,000 faulty units at a rate of up to 8500 per week, but there are still 186,111 Honda vehicles on the road that need new airbag components.

Honda owners who want to check their vehicle’s status should click here. 

Manufacturers are getting in touch with owners affected by the issue. The ACCC’s Product Safety Australia page also has full details of vehicles affected by the recalls here.

The Breakdown: Takata airbag recalls

Takata is also renowned for its racing harnesses.

Worryingly, there is no end in sight for the stream of recalls. As mentioned earlier, Toyota and Subaru announced in the last fortnight that more than 150,000 models will need attention, and there are plenty more on the horizon.

US officials overseeing the NHTSA released a statement in 2016 saying many new cars fitted with Takata airbags on an ongoing basis will need to be recalled in the future.

US senator Bill Nelson said “consumers are buying new cars not realising they’re going to be recalled,” and that “these cars shouldn’t be sold until they’re fixed.”

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