Why Those Takata Airbags Didn’t Work Right

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Automakers afflicted by the recent Takata airbag recalls have discovered three detailed causes for some of the inflator ruptures, according to initial findings from a study that will be available in the next couple of weeks.

One of the factors is phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate lacking a moisture-absorbing desiccant, as stated by the Independent Testing Coalition (ITC), a group of automakers formed in December of 2014 once they were named in the Japanese supplier’s recalls (BMW, Fiat-Chrysler, Honda, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota).

That’s right. Always remember that this is a Japanese supplier, but this problem affects more than Japanese car makers. It’s certainly no reason to avoid buying a Japanese car brand.

According to the ITC, when moisture is present, “long-term exposure to repeated high-temperature cycling” and airbag inflator assemblies that do “not adequately prevent moisture intrusion” were also recognized, the group stated that “all of which contribute to the rupture of Takata airbag inflators.”

The testing, which ran over 20,000 hours and was conducted by Virginia-based defense contractor Orbital ATK, who is known to build rocket engines and ammunition, concentrated on the roughly 23 million inflators recalled in 19 million cars in the United States. Orbital will be running further tests to take in an additional five million recalled Takata inflators within this upcoming month. The will also test inflators manufactured with desiccant and new inflators that were made with the intention to replace parts for the recall. Though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has acknowledged that this plan may not work in the long run. In an attempt to avoid that issue, Orbital will run an aging test.

In an earlier and separate report, NHTSA vehicle integrity chief Scott Yon stated that “long-term” testing can take five years or more. “The propellant wafers enlarge over time, at which point they become too large and begin to cause ruptures,” Yon wrote.

“This is not short term exposure to high absolute humidity like during a 2-week vacation or even for 5 months each winter,” he wrote. “It is continued exposure to high absolute humidity year round for multiple years in a row.”

As a result of the testing, NHTSA’s November consent order with Takata, in which it was fined $70 million over several years, might need to be amended. That’s how minority staff in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation put it in a new report after reviewing official internal Takata paperwork.

“To protect the public from an unreasonable risk to safety, Committee minority staff believe that NHTSA should immediately exercise its authority under the Consent Order and Coordinated Remedy to accelerate the phase-out schedule for non-desiccated ammonium nitrate-based inflators and to create a phase-out schedule for desiccated ammonium nitrate-based inflators.”

As per the consent order terms, Takata will have until 2018 to stop production of all non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators and then until 2019 to demonstrate that ammonium nitrate is harmless within its most recent products. While Takata did agree to stop any incoming contracts for desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators, there is no existing production cap on the inflators.

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