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Could the air bag in your vehicle explode?

The possibility is still there, as millions of vehicles with defective Takata air bags—even though they have been recalled—have yet to have repairs completed. It’s not the consumers’ fault. The recalls affect so many vehicles that Takata is having a hard time keeping up with demands for repair parts.

Takata and Automakers Recall Vehicles with Takata Air Bags
So far, Takata and about 10 different automakers have implemented recalls of Takata driver’s side air bags. These have the potential to explode upon deployment, sending metal and plastic shrapnel into the interior of the vehicle. Occupants have suffered knife-like wounds resulting in scarring, vision and hearing loss, disfigurement, and excessive bleeding that can lead to death.

Defective air bags have already been linked to about six deaths and over 100 injuries, prompting Takata and automakers like Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, and more to implement recalls. Consumers have been notified to bring their vehicles in for repairs, but in some cases, the replacement parts are just not available.

Supply of Air Bags Short of Demand

According to Consumer Reports, a total of about 7.8 million vehicles have been recalled for replacement of driver’s side and passenger’s side Takata air bags. When consumers take their vehicles in for repairs, however, they’re often being told they have to wait for weeks to months for replacement parts to arrive. Takata has increased production, but still there just aren’t enough.

According to a November 2014 report in AutoNews, there is no quick fix to the supply problem. Even as automakers turn to other air bag suppliers for help, it’s never a simple thing to quickly produce millions of inflators. One of the problems is that any new supplier would want to test Takata-designed air bags, to ensure they were safe, which can take months. Other suppliers would also need to continue to manufacture their own air bags while taking on the additional demand for Takata replacement parts.

At its current manufacturing rate, it will take Takata about two years to fix all recalled vehicles in the U.S.

Are the Replacement Parts Any Better?

Meanwhile, there are some questions as to how safe the replacements parts, themselves, are. According to recent reports, former Takata engineer Mark Lillie warned the company about the unstable ammonium nitrate compound they chose to use in their air bag propellants in 1999. When they didn’t listen, he left the company, and has now expressed his willingness to testify on behalf of plaintiffs who are suing Takata for injuries suffered in defective air bag crashes.

According to Lillie, even the new air bag inflators are made with ammonium nitrate, which could end up compounding the problem. “They’re trying to replace ammonium nitrate-based inflators with more ammonium nitrate-based inflators,” he told AutoNews. “You’re multiplying the problem. We need to pull all the ammonium nitrate-based inflators out, and they need to be replaced with a design that doesn’t have this flaw.”

The NHTSA still recommends that all consumers get their vehicles repaired as soon as possible, to reduce risk of an air bag explosion.

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