US regulators re-open Takata airbag investigation

2015 Ford Mustang Active Glovebox Knee Airbag
2015 Ford Mustang Active Glovebox Knee Airbag

Recall could affect most cars and brands worldwide. As CarBuyer predicted, the dangers of Takata’s deadly reairbags never quite went away 

Washington DC, USA – 

On Friday, September 17 2021, the USA’s automobile regulatory/safety body, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), opened a new probe into more than 30 million vehicles which could still have potentially defective airbag inflators made by defunct Japanese supplier Takata. 

This includes the majority of brands in the USA, with cars built from 2001 to 2019.

Automakers involved include: BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover/Range Rover, Nissan, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla and Toyota.

In fact, it’s easier to name the brands which didn’t use Takata parts, as the Japanese company was one of the biggest automotive suppliers around – only Kia, Hyundai, and Volvo,  are known to consistently not use Takata inflators.

Remember the Takata Saga: Part 1?

Volkswagen Golf airbag system – VW was one of the automakers named in the original Takata recall

The NHTSA and automakers involved have not made any official comments as yet. But in essence, this is a redux of the ‘original’ Takata fiasco from 2013, which resulted in the biggest automotive recall in history and the demise of Takata itself.

It was particularly egregious since airbags are a proven safety system that helps save lives, but this fiasco saw them turned into the exact opposite.

The faulty components resulted in at least 28 deaths and 400 injuries worldwide, and
more than 100 million airbag inflators were recalled, with recalls lasting well until 2019.

This is one instance where we hoped to be wrong, but back then we said: “…given Takata is still selling airbags that may explode a few years down the road, the situation is far from being resolved.” 

What exactly is the danger?

In 2016, CarBuyer did a comprehensive report on the Takata situation with regards to Singapore – read it for a full explanation of what went wrong with the airbag inflators. 

In short, Takata’s defective airbag inflators became something akin to pipe bombs, exploding and sending metal fragments into occupants’ bodies. This can happen even at relatively low speeds.

While no known fatalities occurred in Singapore, there were at least 15 fatalities in Malaysia. One particularly tragic case there involved a pregnant woman and her child, who were travelling at only 30km/h.

As recent as August 2021, fatalities have still occurred with Takata airbag inflators – a report by Bloomberg showed that incidents exist especially in places with weak recall protocols and communications. 

This is a US investigation, does it affect us? 

Given how the original Takata fiasco played out, it could easily affect us as well.

In the original recall in Singapore, one in eight of the 575,353 cars on the road here were involved. And as we said back then: “…we don’t know for certain what airbags came from which plant ended up where. In our opinion, the problem is not just limited to one Takata factory, and global recalls support that idea.”

The situation is even more worrying given that a possible reason for the faulty airbag inflators is a hot and humid environment – just like Singapore’s and Malaysia’s. 

Which car brands and models are affected? What should you do? 

Volvo’s airbag system in action – Volvo is one of the few automakers, along with Kia and Hyundai, which do/did not consistently use Takata airbags

It’s tricky to tell, though – even in 2016 it wasn’t clear which models do, or don’t, use the parts in question.

If you own a car made from 2001 to 2019 from one of the brands named, it’s possible your car could be affected. 

The most important thing to do is to get in touch with your car’s official service provider /centre – and that goes for cars even out of warranty – to check if an airbag recall has been done or is required. If it isn’t required, best to have that in writing.  

You can also use the LTA’s recall notice checking service – find the link here. 

Are we being overly paranoid?

If the idea of a bomb waiting to go off right in front of you isn’t worrying, then it’s hard to imagine what is.

In 2016, CarBuyer queried all brands named in the global recall for official statements on the situation to help consumers put things into perspective – only Audi, Honda, and Toyota responded. Silence, in that case, was very loud.

Safety is something that often gets swept under the carpet here, but our opinion is that there have been no Takata-related fatalities here to date because of 1. The extensive recalls and 2. Sheer luck.

But there’s no harm in checking, and if consumer pressure doesn’t exist to force carmakers to square this fault – if it exists in their vehicles – head-on, then nothing will happen.  Until something happens. 

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats. Follow him on Instagram @werryndong