Up to 40 million cars added to air bag recall

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded the already massive Takata air bag recall, adding 35 million to 40 million cars to the recall list. In addition, it is accelerating the recall process in an effort to get all the cars repaired as quickly as possible.

The expansion of the recall from the 28.8 million cars that have already been recalled makes it the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history. As a result, NHTSA is creating an updated schedule for the order in which cars will be repaired, with the highest-risk cars being the priority.

The federal agency based its decisions on 3 independent investigations into why the air bag inflator ruptures. All 3 studies concluded that a combination of time and humid climates with fluctuating high temperatures are factors causing the inflators to degrade. The degradation causes the ammonium nitrate propellant to burn too quickly, which ruptures the inflator module, sending shrapnel through the air bag and into the vehicle occupants.

The defective inflators have been linked to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States.

The expanded recall means that all cars with Takata driver-side and front-passenger air bags that use ammonium nitrate-based propellant without a desiccant, a chemical drying agent, will be recalled. Air bag inflators that have a desiccant to absorb moisture are not part of the recall.

“The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “This recall schedule ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants.”

NHTSA encouraged all owners to get their cars repaired as soon as they receive notification that the parts are available. The agency has set a goal that 100% of the recalled cars are repaired so that it will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The newest group of cars under the air bag recall will be set to be repaired in phases, starting this month through December 2019. A total of 8.1 million cars have been repaired.

Last year, NHTSA issued the largest civil penalty in its history to Takata for violating the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. It was also the first time it had used its authority to accelerate recall repairs to millions of autos. The agency said that, as a result, the repair process is a year ahead of where it would have been if the agency had waited for the results of the 3 independent investigations.

NHTSA is updating the list of cars that have been added to the recall and will post it here when it is ready.

To see the priority groups for repairs, view this list.

It’s a good idea to use NHTSA’s VIN Lookup Tool to check for recalls for any car you are driving. That would include not just cars you own, but also rental cars or those that may be provided to you for work purposes.

Finally, subscribe to NHTSA’s Recall Notification E-Mail System so you don’t need to wait for a notice in the mail that your car is under a recall.

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.