Tens of millions of Takata airbags have been recalled worldwide because of stability issues that could cause them to explode upon deployment. General Motors (GM) was one of the many automakers affected by these recalls. The company has already replaced millions of defective airbag inflators, but it recently announced it would replace about six million more in the U.S.
Takata Airbags Can Rupture, Injuring and Killing Vehicle Occupants
The problem originates with the fuel used to make the propellant inside the airbag inflator. Takata switched to ammonium nitrate in the 1990s, reportedly to save money. It soon became clear, however, that the fuel could become unstable over time and with exposure to heat and humidity. This unstable fuel could then cause the airbag to explode during an accident, sending pieces of plastic and metal through the interior of the car. Such explosions have caused serious injuries and deaths.
In 2008, Honda Motor Company was the first to recall thousands of vehicles after discovering that the Takata airbag inflators could rupture when deployed. Then, in 2009, the first death connected to an exploding Takata airbag occurred when an Oklahoma teen had a minor accident in her high school parking lot. Her Honda Accord airbags exploded, hitting her carotid artery and causing her to bleed to death.
Later that same year, another driver was killed in Virginia when the airbag in a 2001 Honda Accord ruptured after a minor accident, severing the arteries in her neck and killing her. Honda expanded its earlier recalls, and by 2013, other automakers—including Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, and BMW—started recalling the airbags too.
In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal investigation into Takata airbags. In May 2015, Takata finally acknowledged that some of its inflators might be defective and agreed to pay up to $200 million in penalties, while also agreeing to recall 32 million inflators on vehicles from many automakers, including GM.
In 2017, Takata declared bankruptcy, shifting the financial burden of replacing airbags onto the automakers.
GM Argues Newer Airbags Are Safe, but NHTSA Disagrees
Hoping to avoid the rising costs of airbag repairs, in November 2016, September 2017, January 2018, and January 2019, GM petitioned the NHTSA for exemptions.
The NHTSA declined every time, and GM has recalled about 1.4 million Takata airbags total, repairing about 990,000 of them so far. The company argued this time around that its tests showed the current airbags did not pose a threat, but the NHTSA disagreed, stating that the inflators have the same risk of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity.
As a result, GM is recalling about 6 million more vehicles in the U.S.—about 7 million worldwide—to replace the Takata airbags.
This latest recall reportedly affects the following vehicles:
- 2007-2014 Chevy Silverado 1500, 2500, and 3500 pickup trucks
- 2007-2014 GMC Sierra 1500, 2500, and 3500 pickup trucks
- 2007-2013 Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup trucks
- 2007-2013 Chevrolet Avalanche pickup trucks
- 2007-2014 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban SUVs
- 2007-2014 GMC Yukon and Yukon XL SUVs
- 2007-2014 Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV SUVs
The automaker will reportedly notify owners of the affected vehicles within 60 days. Owners can also check the NHTSA’s website to see if their vehicles are affected.