What this recall means to you and what actions you should take
Vehicles made by 14 different automakers have been recalled to replace frontal airbags on the driver’s side or passenger’s side, or both in what NHTSA has called “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history.” The airbags, made by major parts supplier Takata, were mostly installed in cars from model year 2002 through 2015. Some of those airbags could deploy explosively, injuring or even killing car occupants. (Look for details below on waits for replacement airbags.)
At the heart of the problem is the airbag’s inflator, a metal cartridge loaded with propellant wafers, which in some cases has ignited with explosive force. If the inflator housing ruptures in a crash, metal shards from the airbag can be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin—a potentially disastrous outcome from a supposedly life-saving device.
NHTSA has determined the root cause of the problem: airbags that use ammonium nitrate-based propellent without a chemical drying agent. As postulated early on, environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age as associated with the defect that can improperly inflate the airbags and even send shrapnel into the occupant. To date, there have been 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries due to this problem in the U.S.
Through various announcements, the recall has tripled in size over the past year. It currently stands at more than 100 million vehicles worldwide with airbag inflators needing to be replaced before 2019.
The safety agency has not yet announced the vehicles that are included in the expansion. NHTSA will consult the affected automakers to determine a rollout schedule for the recall, prioritizing the highest-risk vehicles.