Car Industry

30.4M faulty Takata airbags are still on US roads

Get your Takata airbags fixed, people, jeez.

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The Takata airbag inflator scandal involves incredibly dangerous car parts, yet somehow, most people haven't gotten around to fixing them.

Approximately two-thirds of the 46.2 million Takata airbag inflators under recall are still in cars across the US, according to US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. His data comes from the independent monitor overseeing Takata's recall. That means there are approximately 30.4 million recalled units still rolling down US roads.

Those 46.2 million recalled airbag inflators are installed in some 29 million US vehicles, but the number is set to grow through 2019 to about 65 million inflators and 42 million US vehicles. Expand that to a global scope, and some 100 million inflators have been recalled across 19 different automakers, from Ford to Ferrari.

Components of a Takata airbag sit on a bench at a US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

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Part of the reason for this is simple. With this many parts requiring replacement, Takata must both build the replacements and find the money to do so. Many owners can now receive replacement parts with ease, but early in the recall, replacement parts were few and far between.

Owners shoulder some of the blame, too. Not everybody gets excited at the premise of going to the dealership, and Americans are pretty bad at getting recalls fixed in general. A 2012 NHTSA-sponsored study found that approximately 25 percent of recalled cars never get repaired, no matter the reason.

These aren't the kind of parts that should be left in cars, though. Takata's faulty airbag inflators can malfunction during airbag deployment, sending shrapnel through the cabin instead of inflating the airbag as normal. Thus far, some 16 deaths and 180 injuries have been linked to Takata's faulty parts.

Independent testing confirmed the reasons for this fatal defect. Takata cut costs by neglecting to add a moisture-absorbing desiccant to its ammonium nitrate inflators and insufficiently protecting its parts from moisture. When moisture eventually contacted the desiccant-free ammonium nitrate, it caused the chemical to go bad, causing the part failures.

In the wake of this scandal, Takata pleaded guilty in the US to criminal wrongdoing and promised to pay a $1 billion fine. A number of automakers, including BMW and Toyota, agreed to pay $533 million as part of a settlement with owners, with some of that money going to a campaign to get owners into dealerships for the fix.