The recall of Takata air-bag inflators is being expanded by another 5 million units after reports of a ninth U.S. fatality linked to the faulty devices.
The incident occurred last month, when the driver of a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup truck in South Carolina died after, safety regulators believe, the vehicle’s air-bag inflator ruptured. Worldwide, 10 deaths have been tied to Takata’s rupturing air-bag inflators.
Already one of the largest and most complex recalls in regulatory history, this brings to 28 million the number of inflators that need to be checked. The total number of vehicles equipped with the inflators is hard to determine because some vehicles with the newly recalled inflators were already covered under prior recalls of other inflators in the same vehicle.
In the South Carolina fatality, the passenger-side inflator had been recalled, but not the driver’s side, which ruptured and caused the driver to lose control.
“This is a mess, but NHTSA is using all tools available to clean up this mess,” said Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He said that the agency still has not identified a definitive root cause of the fatal ruptures.
This latest round covers vehicles made by manufacturers not previously ensnared by problems with the Takata air bags, including Volkswagen and Audi and a small number of Daimler vans.
Takata executives have testified before Congress four times amid allegations that the company reacted slowly to the crisis and resisted NHTSA’s requests to quickly expand its recalls.
Older air bags made by Takata have the potential to explode if humidity gets into the inflator and decays the system, sending debris flying into a car’s cabin.
The issue involves defective inflator and propellant devices that may deploy improperly in the event of a crash, shooting metal fragments into vehicle occupants. Approximately 34 million vehicles are potentially affected in the United States, and another 7 million have been recalled worldwide.
Initially, only six makes were involved when Takata announced the problem in April 2013, but a Toyota recall in June — along with new admissions from Takata that it had little clue as to which cars used its defective inflators, or even what the root cause was — prompted more automakers to issue identical recalls.
In July, the NHTSA forced additional regional recalls in high-humidity areas including Florida, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to gather removed parts and send them to Takata for review.