-- The nation’s largest auto safety recall could become even bigger.
Auto safety regulators announced today they are expanding their investigation of airbags manufactured by Japan-based Takata Corp.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is investigating yet another airbag inflator that could pose a rupture risk: the Takata SSI-20, which is primarily used in side airbags. General Motors has already recalled nearly 400 vehicles equipped with SSI-20s, and Volkswagen has reported SSI-20 ruptures.
“NHTSA will continue to keep a close eye on this matter,” NHTSA Vehicle Integrity Chief Scott Yon promised today.
Approximately 23 million driver and passenger front airbags produced by Takata have already been recalled after automakers discovered that inflators in these airbags could rupture, spraying metal shrapnel at car passengers. This recall, the largest in U.S. history, affects 19 million automobiles.
The agency is considering using what's called an "accelerated remedy" to speed up the repair process.
At least seven people have died and 98 people have been injured by Takata airbag ruptures in the U.S., the NHTSA said. Victims suffered facial lacerations, broken facial bones and loss of eyesight. By NHTSA’s calculation, nearly 1 in 10 ruptures ended in death.
Because there are more defective inflators than replacement parts available, regulators are prioritizing remedies based on a number of risk factors, including the age of the inflator and its long-term exposure to humidity and heat, which increases the likelihood of a rupture.
“To speak plainly, the nearly 23 million replacement inflators needed simply won’t be available within the next month, or even the next six months,” acknowledged NHTSA Office of Defects Investigations Director Frank Borris.
Some drivers will have to begin with an interim fix –- a newer version of the same defective inflator -– and follow-up with a permanent fix when parts become available. Three companies, Autoliv, Diacel and TRW, are ramping up inflator production to bolster Takata’s limited supply of replacements.
NHTSA is encouraging all consumers –- especially the 6 million drivers living in high-risk, high humidity areas along the Gulf Coast and in Florida and Puerto Rico, where the majority of the ruptures occurred -– to take recalls seriously.
“Don’t let this fall through the cracks,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said today, warning consumers not to buy airbags online.
In the high-risk region, nearly 30 percent of defective airbags have been remedied; the repair rate nationwide is around 23 percent.
To see if your vehicle is impacted, visit safercar.gov.