Federal safety officials ordered Takata Corp. Tuesday to expand its recall of driver-side airbags from regional to nationwide. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received a report of a defective airbag outside the current recall areas in the United States, which is confined to those with persistently high humidity. NHTSA will force Takata to expand the recall if the Japanese safety equipment maker does not agree to do so voluntarily, NHTSA said in a press release.
The newly reported complaint was received two weeks ago and the incident involved a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina in August, according to the Ford Motor Co.
As part of the ongoing investigation, NHTSA officials have requested detailed reports and all relevant documents on the testing of Takata air bag inflators outside the current regional recall areas from all 10 of the car manufacturers that use Takata-made air bags: BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota.
NHTSA officials also issued a second special order to Takata Tuesday, demanding documents and detailed information on the propellant used in the Takata-made airbag inflators. Officials will use this provided information to determine if the chemical mix in Takata’s propellant is linked to the recently identified defect.
“We now know that millions of vehicles must be recalled to address defective Takata air bags and our aggressive investigation is far from over,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said. “We’re pushing Takata and all affected manufacturers to issue the recall and to ensure the recalls capture the full scope of the problems.”
The Takata-made airbags deploy with such explosive force, they not only rupture and fail to protect drivers in accidents, but also can eject bits of the metal piece that holds the bag in place behind the steering wheel. The explosive deployments seem to occur with greater frequency in hot, humid areas, like Florida, which led investigators to question whether moisture or extreme humidity cause the air bag inflators to rupture. But the new complaint in North Carolina prompted NHTSA officials to expand the recall nationwide.
A federal grand jury is investigating Takata’s defective airbags as part of a criminal inquiry. So far, more than 11 million vehicles in the United States have been recalled and more than 17 million cars total worldwide, which are linked to at least four deaths in the United States and one in Malaysia. The expanded recall could involve millions of additional vehicles, officials said.