At least four automakers — Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi — continue to sell new vehicles with defective Takata airbags that will need to be recalled, according to a Senate Commerce Committee report released on Wednesday.
The report underscores the convoluted way the mass recalls of Takata airbags have unfolded, with new models still being fitted with defective airbags and, in some cases, recalled cars also receiving defective airbags.
Automakers are not required to tell buyers of the new cars about the problems with the airbags. Regulators emphasize, however, that the newer airbags do not pose an immediate threat, because it takes time for them to deteriorate.
At least 13 deaths worldwide have been linked to the defective airbags. The interior of the bags is sensitive to moisture and can rupture, sending shrapnel flying toward the car’s occupants. The defect has also been linked to more than 100 injuries, many of them critical.
The higher-risk airbags are not fitted with a drying agent that helps protect the interior from damaging moisture. Fourteen automakers are recalling more than 60 million vehicles to fix the defect in the biggest and most complex recall in automotive history.
“I find it bizarre on multiple levels,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, an automotive research company. “Multiple mainstream automakers essentially know that they are selling cars that already have a defective part in them. And it’s not a defective windshield wiper or sun visor hinge. It’s an airbag, a primary safety device,” he said.
Mr. Brauer said a tight supply of airbags worldwide meant automakers were struggling to find alternative suppliers. But he said that he thought automakers should be required to disclose which models have the airbags that will be recalled.
“If a company is unwilling to disclose which models, I as a consumer would hesitate buying any of their cars until I know which ones are affected,” Mr. Brauer said. “What if they required every car with these airbags to have an additional sticker put on them?”
At the root of the problem is a compound called ammonium nitrate, which helps generate the gases that inflate the airbag. Ammonium nitrate breaks down over time when it is exposed to moisture or temperature swings and, when activated, can cause its metal casing to disintegrate. In some versions of the airbags, a drying agent is used to prevent moisture from damaging the interior.
Takata is the only major airbag maker that uses the compound in its driver and passenger-side airbags. It has been barred by auto safety regulators from entering into any new contracts for airbags that use ammonium nitrate without a drying agent.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Hiroko Tabuchi