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Takata Identifies Moisture As Cause of Airbag Inflator Defect

June 24, 2014

Takata Corp. has been in the headlines for a while due to faulty airbag inflators, which ruptured airbags in six vehicles and are linked to two deaths. Now, the company is naming the possible reason behind the malfunction.

Last week, the Japanese airbag supplier identified moisture as the possible culprit in the airbag inflator problem. On Friday, June 20, CEO Shigehisa Takada said in a statement that the inflators may have been ruined by moisture and that the high levels of humidity in the states where the rupture of the airbags occurred played a key role. Takada also said that the company’s engineers are now looking into the possible impact of humidity on potential inflator defects.

Federal safety regulators and others have long suspected that moisture caused the degradation of Takata’s airbag inflators. Reuters already singled out moisture as the cause of the malfunction in a story published back in January.

Takata airbags use the common explosive ammonium nitrate as a propellant. The chemical is packed into wafers found inside the inflator, which expels hot gas to inflate the airbag in the event of a crash. While Takata’s ammonium nitrate blend creates gas better than the chemical mix used by other airbag suppliers, it is more unstable and more sensitive to moisture.

Moisture compromises the quality of the wafers, causing these to disintegrate. When ignited, the crumbled wafers burn swiftly and cause an explosion.

Takata admitted that it failed to shield stored propellant from moisture and that its plants in Washington and Mexico used propellant exposed to moisture from 2000 to 2002. This means that substandard wafers were used in numerous airbags supplied to automakers. While the company addressed the moisture issue, the problem was worsened by faulty record keeping. Takata had no record of the wafer batches which passed or did not pass quality control, and this proved to be a problem in the tracking of defective airbags.

Millions of vehicles have been recalled due to the inflator malfunction, including those from Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. The three automakers recently expanded their recalls to address the defective inflator problem. In a letter dated June 11, Takata told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that it is willing to support auto manufacturers replacing airbag inflators, specifically those made between 2000 and 2007.

There are two deaths linked to defective airbag inflators in Honda vehicles, and both happened in the United States in 2009. Both victims were riding a 2001 Honda Accord. They died after being hit with metal shrapnel sprayed by the faulty inflator.

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