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Takata airbag recall now a record at nearly 34 million cars

Takata Uruguay airbag plant
An ongoing recall of airbag inflators from Japanese supplier Takata has already grown to encompass dozens of models made by multiple manufacturers over roughly a decade, and now it’s officially the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

Even as car manufacturers recalled millions of vehicles in response to incidents of exploding airbags, Takata refused to acknowledge that there were any defects in its products until yesterday.

Takata’s admission will lead to a formal recall of the airbag inflators themselves, expanding the total number of vehicles recalled for the problem to 33.8 million.

The airbags can explode when deploying, spraying shrapnel into the passenger compartment. While six deaths and 100 injuries have been linked to the defect, Takata has managed to avoid admitting any responsibility until now, according to The New York Times.

The first consumer complaints were submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2000. Honda issued the first airbag-related recall in 2008, and Takata found defects in the inflators as early as 2004, but didn’t report this information to regulators, the paper says.

In February, the federal government began fining Takata $14,000 a day for failing to cooperate with its related investigation. The fine, which has reached over $1 million, was suspended with the announcement of the recall.

But now that the issue has been fully acknowledged, actually repairing the affected cars presents another challenge.

According to a NHTSA statement, Takata, carmakers, and independent testers haven’t been able to determine a root cause for the airbag malfunctions, although results indicate the problem is related to moisture.

Introduction of moisture to the inflator changes the chemical composition of the propellant that allows the airbag to inflate, the agency says. The degraded propellant can ignite too quickly, causing the inflator to rupture and spew shrapnel at passengers.

The NHTSA is waiting for carmakers to supply a complete list of vehicles affected by the expanded recall, which could take several days. The recall covers certain models from BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.

Owners will be able to determine if their cars are affected by entering their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the NHTSA’s Takata recall website. The agency advises owners to check back frequently as the list of vehicles is updated.

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