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Here's why Takata's airbag inflators keep exploding

As it turns out, there's more than one factor involved.

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Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read
Takata Airbag Inflator
Joe Skipper/Reuters/Corbis

Takata's faulty airbag inflators, which could rupture and send shrapnel (instead of an airbag) into the cabin, have been linked to 10 deaths and over 100 injuries so far. Tens of millions have been recalled here in the US alone, but nobody was really sure why this was happening. Now, we know.

An auto industry collective known as the Independent Testing Coalition called on rocket science company Orbital ATK to determine the cause of Takata's woes. After some digging, Orbital ATK figured out that there are three causes for this.

The first cause is the material used to inflate the airbag -- ammonium nitrate, which can go bad when exposed to high heat and humidity. The second cause relates to a lack of moisture-absorbing substance within the inflator, to help protect the ammonium nitrate. Finally, the inflator assemblies are not sufficiently protecting the contents within from humidity. Combine those three factors, and you've got a perfect storm of worst-case scenarios.

In an emailed statement, Takata agreed with the findings. "The results of testing conducted by Orbital ATK on behalf of the Independent Testing Coalition (ITC) are consistent with Takata's own testing," the statement said. "We fully cooperated with ITC to support their analysis, and we will continue to work closely with them, NHTSA and our customers to take aggressive actions that advance vehicle safety."

Thus far, several automakers have issued individual recalls related to Takata's airbag troubles. There's a rumor that tens of millions of additional airbag inflators are soon to be recalled, as well.