Takata air bag recall now largest in American history – USA TODAY

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Japanese auto supplier Takata’s deadly air bag crisis ballooned into the largest recall in U.S. history Wednesday as the company agreed in a deal with auto-safety regulators to recall another 35 million to 40 million air bag inflators.

About 28.8 million inflators had already been recalled to repair a defect that can cause the air bags to explode during an accident. Eleven deaths have been linked to the defective parts.

“This is the largest recall in American history,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

The exact number of vehicles affected by the recall was not immediately known. It is likely to be similar to the inflator figure, although some vehicles require replacements for driver-side and passenger-side air bags.

The defective air bags are at risk of rupturing violently in a collision, hurling fiery shrapnel into drivers and passengers. In addition to the fatalities, about 100 people have been injured.

Taken together, virtually all major automakers are affected by the recall in some capacity. By some estimates, nearly one-quarter of all vehicles on the road in the U.S. could be subject to the recall, though 8.2 million had already been fixed as of April 22. Drivers will receive notices when it’s time for their repairs.

Takata agreed to replace the inflators in five phases beginning immediately and extending through December 2019. The company already agreed to pay at least $70 million in penalties and up to $200 million for failing to promptly fix the vehicles or report the defect.

“This agreement with NHTSA is consistent with our desire to work with regulators and our automaker customers to develop long-term, orderly solutions to these important safety issues,” Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada said in a statement.

The defect, which mystified government scientists for months, stems from conditions affecting ammonium nitrate propellant used in the inflators, NHTSA has concluded. The propellant is prone to degrading over time, especially in hot, humid climates, according to tests by the government and Takata.

That’s why older cars that have spent most of their time in states such as Florida are prioritized first in the recall process.  But Takata suggested Wednesday that the problem may also be connected to “manufacturing variability,” as certain models are much more likely to have a problem than others.

A panel commissioned by Takata to assess the company’s safety culture reported in February that to this day, Takata workers load “much” of the propellant into air bag inflators by hand. The panel recommended automating the process.

To be sure, the supplier said it does not know of any ruptured air bags in the real world or tests in the vehicles that were added to the recall Wednesday.

“Nonetheless, the company has agreed to accept and support the expanded recalls respecting Takata’s and NHTSA’s shared interest towards future safety and restoring public confidence,” the company said in a statement.

Rosekind credited Takata for the new approach, saying it “may be turning the corner toward a stronger” safety culture. But he also reiterated that Takata had repeatedly flouted federal rules on defect reporting until the defect was discovered some two years ago.

Production of replacement parts has increased at a feverish pace, but many vehicle owners are still waiting for their dealers to get parts. Even Rosekind’s family owns a Takata air bag vehicle that has not yet gotten a part, he said.

“You’ve just got to stay vigilant, so as soon as it’s available, get it fixed,” he said.

Takata air bags that were installed with a chemical drying agent called a desiccant are not part of the expanded recall.

But Rosekind said those vehicles could also become part of the recall if evidence surfaces suggesting those air bags are also at risk of exploding.

Consumers can find more information about the recall at Safercar.gov/rs/takata.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

Takata air bag recall now largest in American history – USA TODAY

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