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Defective Airbags In New Vehicles

By Butler Prather LLP on June 2, 2016

A report from the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee found that several automakers are still selling new cars with potentially dangerous airbags that are subject to recall. Takata airbags represent the largest auto product recall ever. Tens of millions of these airbags have been recalled because of the potential for explosions that can injure or kill vehicle passengers. Few consumers would suspect that, despite the recall and the known danger of these airbags, they are still being released into the market in new vehicles.

The automotive industry might seem like one cohesive unit to the average consumer. If you want a new Toyota, you go to the Toyota dealership and pick one out. You probably assume that Toyota Industries Corp oversees the entire process from building the parts to selling the vehicles. The truth is that car dealerships are customers of carmakers like Toyota and Toyota is a customer of car parts manufacturers like Takata and Aisin-Warner. Takata manufactured the defective airbags, and automakers and dealers are choosing to pass along the trouble to consumers.

The Senate report identifies Volkswagen, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Fiat Chrysler as the companies still selling vehicles with Takata airbags that will eventually be recalled. Honda promised not to equip any new vehicles with the defective airbags, while acknowledging that 17,000 new vehicles already have the airbags in place. The problem may grow worse as the scope of the Takata defect continues to widen. Just this week, Ford expanded its recall efforts by nearly 2 million vehicles equipped with the airbags. Takata has been a reluctant participant in efforts by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to get affected vehicles off the roads and into repair shops.

The NHTSA has pinpointed the problem with the Takata airbags. Airbags with inflators that use ammonium-nitrate can become dangerous when exposed to humid conditions for an extended period of time. This can be solved through the use of a drying agent, which Takata did not employ on the recalled products. Because of the nature of the defect, the NHTSA is prioritizing older vehicles in its recall efforts. The new vehicles containing defective airbags are less likely to cause injury than those built a few years ago. That temporary window of safety is unlikely to comfort a consumer who discovers he or she was sold a vehicle with a known, and potentially deadly, defect.

Source: Automotive News Europe, “VW, Fiat Chrysler said to be still selling cars with defective Takata airbags,” by David Shepardson, 1 June 2016

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