Over 14 different automakers have issued vehicle recalls over frontal airbag problems on either the driver’s or passenger’s side, all of which come from major automobile parts support Takata. Dubbed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as “the largest and most complex safety recall in [United States] history,” the Takata airbag recalls have raised alarms over security for new vehicles. The fact that vehicles supplied with Takata airbags with model years starting from 2002 through 2015 suggests that passenger safety measures among a large number of automakers have not been up to par with acceptable standards. Worse, Takata airbags in vehicles subjected for recall have been the major cause of accidents or even deaths of passengers, particularly due to explosive deployment.

A closer look at the problem reveals that Takata airbags have been faulty for their inflators. Consisting of a metal cartridge equipped with propellant wafers, the inflators have been cited for allowing Takata airbags to deploy explosively. Resultantly, metal shards coming from the airbag can be blasted off in vehicle crashes, making the situation far worse for passengers. What was supposed to be a life-saving mechanism has since turned deadly for passengers due to the defects – a matter that Takata is busily addressing recently.

The absence of a chemical drying substance for the propellant, which in turn is ammonium nitrate-based, has been pointed by NHTSA as the main culprit behind the disastrous Takata airbag deployments. A combination of environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age correlated with the existing defect can lead airbags to inflate improperly and release metal shards to passengers once they blow off. Problems associated with Takata airbag defects have since led to 10 casualties and 100 injuries in the US alone. If left unaddressed, more consumers will be put at risk of fatal accidents.

Various announcements have been made for the Takata airbag recalls, which have since enlarged to more than double its original size. Right now, over 78 million vehicles have been recalled, with repairs set to be finished until 2019. The latest expansion, however, has yet to include NHTSA’s list of all affected vehicles. For the meantime, NHTSA is set to hold consultations with all affected automakers to negotiate a comprehensive schedule for rollouts, with highest-risk vehicles being the top priority.

Safety risks pertaining to the recalls

The Takata airbag recalls were prompted by the growth in number of casualties and injuries resulting from the faulty airbags in question. To date, there have been seven casualties and more than 100 injuries borne out of Takata airbags, with many of the incidents having recorded grisly results through metal shards that blew off with the deployment of airbags. Nonetheless, said worst-case scenario, while being terribly horrific, were quite rare. Takata, in its statement, revealed that of the 1.2 million airbag deployments it has recorded over 15 years, 88 metal shard ruptures occurred – 67 coming from the driver’s side and 21 from the passenger’s side.

It is interesting to note that the Takata airbag recalls do not dispute the life-saving nature of airbags, despite the large number of recalls involved. A tally by the Department of Transportation shows that over 37,000 lives have been saved by the deployment of frontal airbags between 1987 and 2012. With such a large number of lives saved, airbags get to retain its place in the safety convention of contemporary vehicles. The recalls merely serve to correct said cases and guarantee that airbag-related deaths and injuries will no longer occur.

Both Takata and the NHTSA noted that automakers have responded to present issue by recalling all their affected vehicles. Currently, automakers have prioritized high-humidity areas for their recalls due to the frequency of airbag deployment in those places. Nonetheless, automakers are highly encouraged to take on an approach to the recalls that has a nationwide clout, given that a large number of vehicles in the US are used for interstate travel. The used-vehicle market should be primarily targeted, given that used vehicles that are possibly affected have long experienced a change of hands that may prove risky to their present owners.

Some frequently-asked questions (FAQs) about the recalls

Question 1: Is my vehicle affected by the recalls? How can I know?

The NHTSA’s vehicle identification number (VIN)-lookup tool allows you to check whether your vehicle is covered by the Takata airbag recalls. Look for your VIN situated in the lower part of your windshield where the driver’s side is located, then input it on the website. The website will give you an instant notification once your vehicle is affected by the recalls. Moreover, NHTSA has a complete list of vehicles arranged by brand that you can browse (latest expansion not yet included as of now). You can also call any authorized dealer for your car brand to ask if your vehicle is part of the recalls.

Question 2: What’s the significance of responding to the recalls?

The Takata airbag recalls, as with all other recalls, involves a safety concern that must be immediately addressed. Thus, if your vehicle is included in the recalls, then you must respond to it right away to ensure that you can secure a schedule for inspection and repairs. Recalls, after all, typically involve several vehicles, which is why it is best to give an immediate response to guarantee safety.

Question 3: If my vehicle is included in the recalls, does it mean that its airbag is really defective?

Takata has specified that only a very small number out of the 30 million cars recalled are found to have airbag-related incidents. Thus, just because your vehicle is included in the recalls doesn’t mean that your airbag is defective. Nonetheless, the recalls are a way for Takata to ensure that your vehicle is safe and free from any problems pertaining to your airbag.

Question 4: The recalls worry me, and my vehicle is included. What should I do?

If the recalls worry you too much as you use your vehicle that is included, then make sure to minimize the use of all affected sides for passengers. If the recall cites possible damage to airbags in driver’s seats, then it is advisable for you to minimize your driving or seek other alternatives for using your vehicle, such as carpooling, commuting, and renting a car for the meantime.