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NHTSA's Latest Takata Recall Is the Largest Ever

Update: This story originally published on May 19. You can find more recent information about the recall expansion here.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued what could be the largest consumer product recall ever on Tuesday, demanding that Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata recall nearly 34 million cars in the U.S., made by 10 major automakers. Takata had previously recalled some 17 million airbags in the U.S. since 2008.

Related: NHTSA Updates Recall Website After Cars.com Probe

The Detroit News reported that the figure could surpass the Tylenol recall in 1982 to become the largest recall of consumer products in U.S. history. This story just broke, but we’ll try and answer some questions you might have below.

What’s at issue?

Takata’s recall crisis stems from faulty front airbag inflators, which have a propellant that’s been found to degrade over time and can inflate with too much force, spewing shrapnel into car occupants. They’ve been linked to at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

Which cars have been recalled?

NHTSA didn’t provide a list in today’s press release. The agency says it’s “waiting for the automakers to supply a complete list of affected vehicles.” Here’s the list of models in NHTSA’s Takata recall expansion from October 2014, which includes the core vehicles in the recall. The vast majority are mostly 2000s-era cars from BMW, Honda (including Acura), Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (including Dodge), Nissan (including Infiniti), Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Toyota (including Lexus) and GM’s defunct Pontiac and Saab divisions. It’s been expanded since then, so check out our recalls page to see the latest.

The Detroit News notes we may not know for several days which cars are covered, so stay tuned.

Are most of the recalled cars still in humid regions only?

Not anymore, it appears. NHTSA says Takata will conduct “a national recall of certain types of driver and passenger side airbag inflators.” Experts tell us defective passenger-side airbags have been linked to shrapnel deployments in areas with high absolute humidity, like the Gulf Coast, but defective driver-side inflators have problems regardless of humidity. Now, NHTSA says it plans to expand the recalls for more than 16 million passenger-side inflators to national status; it will also expand recalls for driver’s-side airbags by more than 17 million cars.

It’s a reversal of course for the agency. NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge told us in April that “based on testing and field data, NHTSA does not currently see a need to expand the recalls” for passenger-side inflators beyond humid regions.

One caveat: The Detroit News says Takata may trim the recall total later if it determines that not all passenger airbags require a national campaign.

How quickly can Takata make replacement inflators?

The company has ramped up production but also asked automakers to allow it to pay related costs in installments. It’s also meeting with bankers daily, a move that’s stirred worries over the company’s credit situation. At least one automaker has jumped ship: Honda, which has a large chunk of the recalled vehicles, has sought out at least two other suppliers for replacement inflators.

Is there a confirmed fix?

Takata is replacing the inflators, and NHTSA said today that its analyses point toward prolonged moisture affecting the chemical propellant in the airbag inflators. However, “testing and investigation by Takata, auto manufacturers, and independent researchers have not yet established a definitive root cause of the inflator malfunctions,” the agency said.

What’s the government doing to ensure that Takata cooperates?

NHTSA says it’s issued a “consent order” to Takata, which “requires the company to cooperate in all future regulatory actions that NHTSA undertakes in its ongoing investigation and oversight of Takata.” The agency has been pressing Takata since November 2014 to declare millions more cars defective, according to The Detroit News. The agency said today it will flex its legal authority to “organize and prioritize the replacement” of inflators.

How can I find out more?

Stay tuned to Cars.com for more updates. NHTSA has also launched a new website, www.SaferCar.gov/RecallsSpotlight, with regular updates.

 
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