The recent recall by BMW of a small number of SUVs in the U.S. has brought attention once again to the dangers posed by Takata airbag inflators. According to U.S. auto safety regulators, the recall includes 486 X3, X4, and X5 SUVs from the 2014 model year, all of which are equipped with airbags manufactured by Takata Corp. of Japan. The concern stems from the risk of the driver’s airbag inflators blowing apart in a crash, potentially causing severe injuries or even fatalities. This recall is just the latest in a series of recalls and investigations related to Takata airbag inflators, raising questions about the safety of the millions of inflators that have yet to be addressed.

Takata Corporation utilized volatile ammonium nitrate to trigger a controlled explosion that inflates airbags during a collision. However, over time, this chemical can degrade due to exposure to high temperatures and humidity. When the degraded ammonium nitrate explodes with excessive force, it can rupture the metal canister and release dangerous metal shrapnel. This defect has resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries worldwide. To date, at least 26 deaths have been reported in the U.S., while the global toll stands at 30. Additionally, approximately 400 individuals have been injured as a result of these faulty inflators.

The widespread potential for malfunction led to the largest series of auto recalls in U.S. history, involving at least 67 million Takata inflators. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of these inflators remain unrepaired, according to government reports. Moreover, the recalls go beyond the U.S., with approximately 100 million inflators recalled worldwide. The sheer scale of the problem ultimately forced Takata into bankruptcy.

In the case of the BMW recall, the affected inflators contain a moisture-absorbing chemical called a dessicant, which was not part of previous recalls. BMW became aware of the issue when it received a complaint from the driver of a 2014 X3, reporting a ruptured airbag. Although the exact cause has yet to be determined, preliminary investigations suggest a manufacturing problem between February 22, 2014, and March 7, 2014. Unfortunately, BMW has not been able to inspect the X3 with the faulty airbag, hindering their investigation.

One harrowing incident involving a 2014 X3 was reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The car’s inflator exploded in Chicago, resulting in a large metal fragment penetrating the driver’s lung. The driver also sustained cuts to the chest and shoulder caused by shrapnel. These alarming incidents highlight the urgent need for a comprehensive examination of Takata airbags with dessicants.

The NHTSA launched an investigation in 2021, targeting more than 30 million inflators in over 200 vehicle models from 20 different car manufacturers. Brands such as Honda, Stellantis, General Motors, and Ford are among those being scrutinized. The investigation is focused on Takata airbags equipped with dessicants, as they have the potential to explode and expel shrapnel. While the NHTSA decided not to recall these inflators in May 2020, it acknowledged the need for continued monitoring to assess future risks.

As the investigation progresses, it is crucial to consider the potential safety risks posed by these non-recalled dessicated inflators. Although no immediate safety concerns have been identified, further evaluation is necessary to fully comprehend the long-term risks. The NHTSA remains committed to overseeing the investigation, ensuring consumer safety remains a top priority.

In response to the BMW recall, the automaker plans to replace the airbags free of charge for affected owners. Beginning January 16, notifications will be sent out to inform owners of the recall and the necessary steps to resolve the issue. This action echoes a similar recall by General Motors in July, in which nearly 900 vehicles with Takata inflators containing dessicants were recalled. GM also attributed the problem to a manufacturing defect at Takata.

It is worth noting that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not have any data indicating that other dessicated Takata inflators were prone to rupture, as stated in their response to the GM recall last summer. However, ongoing monitoring and investigation are required to provide comprehensive safety assurance.

The BMW recall serves as a stark reminder of the dangers associated with Takata airbag inflators. With millions of potentially defective inflators still on the roads, the risk to drivers and passengers persists. The ongoing investigation by the NHTSA, coupled with the proactive recalls by automakers like BMW and General Motors, demonstrates a commitment to consumer safety. However, vigilance is crucial to ensure that all potential risks are identified and addressed promptly. As the quest for safer airbags continues, it is vital that manufacturers and regulators work together to safeguard the lives of motorists worldwide.

Technology

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