Japan recalls 1.6 million vehicles 2nd time to replace Takata airbags

The Toyota Vitz was among 20 models recalled again in Japan after the automaker said it would replace the airbags in 1.6 million vehicles that had already been checked in the exploding inflator recall.

Just when it seemed the boiling Takata airbag inflator had simmered down, something ignites it again. Toyota today recalled 1.6 million vehicles whose airbags systems had already been checked and had been deemed safe. The first recall occurred in May and June.

The number one Japanese automaker issued the recall, according to Reuters, after a passenger in a Nissan that had already had its airbag system checked was injured when the airbag inflator exploded. Following the airbag explosion earlier this month, Nissan moved to recall 310,000 vehicles in Japan whose airbag systems had previously been checked. The cars were deemed safe. Today’s Toyota recall covers 20 domestic models that were built between 2004 and 2008. The recalled vehicles include the Vitz compact. Interestingly, the automaker told Reuters in an email, the replacement devices will be made by Takata. There was no other information on how today’s action would affect recalls outside Japan.

U.S. safety regulators believe that the heart of the exploding airbag issue are the propellant, ammonium nitrate. In a finding against Takata earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told the airbag manufacturer to halt the use ammonium nitrate. It also fined Takata $70 million for the problem. Takata, for its part, says it has not yet determined the cause of the safety defect.

The crux of the problem for the ammonium nitrate-based inflators seems to be moisture. Moisture intrusion can cause the propellant to degrade, increasing its explosive force. The stronger charge shatters the inflator housing sending shards of shrapnel-like metal scything through a vehicle’s passenger compartment. To date, eight deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to exploding airbag inflators. The controversy surrounding the airbag inflators has affected a dozen automakers. As many as 40 million vehicles have been or will face recall worldwide.

In another impact on Takata, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda and others have indicated they would stop using Takata’s airbag products in their new models.

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