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Why Takata's Airbags Rupture

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CARS.COM — Poor design choices and exposure to high temperatures, in addition to exposure to high humidity, are among the reasons why Takata’s airbag inflators fail, according a report released today. Defective inflators can spew shrapnel into car passengers when the airbags deploy and have caused at least 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

Related: Is Your Car Part of the Takata Airbag Recall?

Orbital ATK, an aerospace engineering firm tasked by a coalition of 10 automakers with uncovering the root cause of the airbag inflator defect, announced today the following factors:

  • The use of ammonium nitrate propellant without a drying agent
  • Long-term exposure to high temperature cycles and high humidity
  • An inflator assembly that didn’t protect it from moisture due to high humidity

Each of these factors was cited as a possible cause for defective airbags.

“Orbital ATK’s root cause analysis is backed by 20,000 hours of testing and analysis by experienced engineers, scientists, and technicians,” Bob Wardle, senior director of Technology Programs for Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division, said in a statement. “Although the investigation was complicated by the numerous Takata airbag inflator designs used in many different automobiles, the various inflators and platforms still yielded a root cause.”

These factors apply to about 23 million Takata airbag inflators that use ammonium nitrate without a drying agent, according to the Independent Testing Coalition. The coalition is comprised of BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, GM, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. 

The coalition’s investigation of the Takata defect next will focus on the replacement inflators and their performance, the press release stated.

Affected car owners should work with their dealer to have recalled airbags replaced. Find out if your car is part of the Takata recall by checking your car’s VIN at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

Photo of Jennifer Newman
Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Newman is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience, including 15 years as an automotive journalist at Cars.com. Jennifer leads the Editorial team in its mission of helping car shoppers find the vehicle that best fits their life. A mom of two, she’s graduated from kids in car seats to teens behind the steering wheel. She’s also a certified car-seat technician with more than 12 years of experience, as well as member of the World Car Jury, Automotive Press Association and Midwest Automotive Media Association. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennilnewman/ Instagram: @jennilnewman Email Jennifer Newman

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