Saturday, March 5, 2016

Auto advocacy group calls for expanded probe into Jeep fuel tank safety, Toyota Air Bag Recalls

Auto advocacy group calls for expanded probe into Jeep fuel tank safety

Jeep Cherokees on car lot.

Jeep Cherokees on car lot.
March 3, 2016

Rosekind: FAIL! NHTSA dismisses calls for widespread Takata recall

Takata recall expands again: 2008 Toyota Corolla, Matrix; 2008-2010 Lexus SC 430

Mar 3, 2016

Toyota has announced an expansion of recalls related to Takata's fatally flawed airbags. According to the automaker, the 2008 Toyota Corolla, 2008 Toyota Matrix (aka the Toyota Corolla Matrix), and the 2008-2010 Lexus SC 430 will be added to the recall roster.

As with all Takata recalls, this one is designed to replace airbag inflators equipped with ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is a notoriously unstable compound, and studies have shown that, in the presence of heat and moisture, airbags that use ammonium nitrate can become deadly weapons. To date, dozens of those devices have exploded upon deployment, pelting vehicle occupants with shrapnel and injuring more than 100. At least ten deaths have been linked to Takata's airbags.

Today's recall is meant to replace passenger-side airbag inflators. (As you might recall, the Takata recall has been frustratingly complicated, divvied up geographically and by separate recalls for driver- and passenger-side devices. Takata's unwillingness to cooperate with investigators hasn't helped matters.)

The recall affects roughly 198,000 vehicles registered in the U.S. Toyota says that owners will receive recall notices by mail, asking them to visit their local dealers, who will replace the airbag inflator or the airbag assembly, free of charge. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall all vehicles with Takata airbags that rely on ammonium nitrate. If NHTSA were to agree to the Senator's request, it could add up to 90 million vehicles to the recall roster. 

However, NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind seems unlikely to go along with that idea. In a letter to Nelson, he notes that such a massive expansion of the Takata recall would complicate matters and slow down the recall process, which is already hampered by a shortage of replacement parts. 

The Senator may eventually get his wish, though. Takata has agreed to recall all devices equipped with ammonium nitrate in 2019 if the company can't prove that they're safe.

By Justin King

Thursday, Mar 3rd, 2016

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has dismissed calls for a much wider ruling on Takata's airbag inflators.

Some legislators have asked the NHTSA to demand a broader recall of every Takata inflator that uses ammonium-nitrate propellant. Safety advocates have claimed Takata covered up internal tests showing which inflators are prone to failure, while poor record keeping has further contributed to confusion.

Exemplifying the concerns, shrapnel injuries were blamed for a Ford Ranger driver's death in a recent accident. The passenger-side airbag had already been recalled, however the driver-side inflator was not deemed defective until after it had been associated with a fatality.

"A blanket recall of all inflaters would be easier to explain, but it would not serve safety and could run the risk of exceeding NHTSA's statutory authority," agency head Mark Rosekind wrote in a letter to a concerned senator, as quoted by The New York Times

Regulators have pushed for the highest-risk vehicles to be repaired first, including older models and those that have been operated in regions of high humidity. Both age and moisture have been cited as primary factors in propellant degradation and consequent explosions.

Despite Rosekind's dismissive comments of a total recall in the near term, a consent order with Takata requires the company to prove that its ammonium-nitrate inflators are safe. The remaining population, including tens of millions of inflators, could be deemed defective if the company cannot verify their safety by 2018.

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