NHTSA Declares 56 Million Takata Airbag Inflators Don’t Need Recall

Now these won’t be added to the 63 million vehicles already recalled for airbag issues, but some older VW Beetle and Passat models will be newly recalled as a precaution.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided that almost all of a massive batch of Takata airbag inflators that it has been investigating since 2016 do not need to be recalled.
  • The issue is how a desiccant affects the functionality of the airbags, not the shrapnel-spraying issue that was the focus of the massive Takata airbag recall that started in 2013.
  • Some VW models, including Beetles, Beetle convertibles, and Passats, will be recalled starting at the end of the year as they’re equipped with airbags that may not work correctly four years from now, NHTSA said.

Fifty-six million Takata airbag inflators will remain in their vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Thursday, declaring these particular devices safer than the 63 million Takata inflators that have already been recalled in a years-long process that has affected 19 automakers and millions of vehicles around the world since first being announced in 2013.

NHTSA’s announcement this week concerns airbags that have a desiccant (a material used to keep moisture out, which most people are likely familiar with from some packaged foods) called phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN). Using information from Takata and the Independent Testing Coalition, a consortium of vehicle manufacturers, and others, the NHTSA said that “none of the desiccated inflators pose an imminent risk to safety.”

The Center for Auto Safety issued a statement disagreeing with NHTSA’s decision not to recall the additional vehicles, claiming the government agency “chose to neither undertake its own testing, nor release industry information to the public” before making this announcement.

VWs Being Recalled

To make matters a bit confusing, there are around 370,000 vehicles with the PSAN desiccated airbag inflators that are being recalled because they pose a higher safety risk than other vehicles, but not for another four years, the NHTSA said. Limited to three VW models—2012 to 2019 Beetles and Beetle convertibles and 2011–2014 model year Passats—this additional recall will take place in three risk-based phases, NHTSA said, starting December 31, 2020. Owners of VW vehicles can check the NHTSA website for details on the recall.

NHTSA’s original Takata recall was for inflators that in some cases could explode metal pieces into the air when deployed. Those malfunctioning airbags caused at least two dozen deaths and almost 300 injuries around the world. NHTSA had said in 2016 that it would investigate the PSAN desiccant issue and make a decision on the 56 million affected air bags by the end of 2019. Despite this new announcement, the NHTSA said it will continue to monitor the PSAN desiccant issue “to determine whether they may begin to show evidence of degradation that may eventually create a safety risk.”

In January 2020, NHTSA said that more than 36 million defective inflators from its original recall had been repaired since the issue became public. But that still left almost 16 million recalled Takata inflators unrepaired and, presumably, on the road. NHTSA said that most of these 16 million are older and “inherently more difficult to reach” since vehicle owner registration data isn’t always correct.