Takata Air Bags Probed, NHTSA Investigates 1.1M Vehicles

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June 12, 2014

Federal safety officials on Wednesday opened an investigation into 1.1 million vehicles equipped with Takata-brand air bags, now linked to six injuries and two deaths.

The supplier's bags are used by at least seven car companies on their U.S.-market vehicles, and the Takata defect already has resulted in the automakers recalling several million vehicles beginning in 2008. Takata did not return a call for comment.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes the problem as bag "rupture." The car companies describe it more like shrapnel blowing into the occupant as the defective air bag inflator deploys the air bag with too much force.

The new probe by NHTSA comes the same day as Toyota said it would have to recall, again, 766,300 vehicles equipped with Takata bags that it thought it had fixed after an April 2013 recall.

Toyota said the list of possibly defective bags supplied by Takata was "incomplete and did not include all of the potentially involved" air bags. In Toyota's latest recall, it warned that the faulty bags can "propel fragments toward occupants."

Honda went through the same thing, though it had to expand its Takata-related bag recall four times as it repeatedly discovered Takata hadn't given it complete data. Honda earlier linked the problem to two deaths in 2009.

The NHTSA investigation includes driver and front passenger air bags in 2002-2006 models.

The federal agency said it "is aware of six incidents involving (2002-2006) vehicles with air bag modules supplied by Takata in which the air bag ruptured during deployment."

The government's preliminary investigation lists Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Chrysler Group and Toyota as having the possibly defective bags. In a separate report to NHTSA, Takata last year included all those, plus BMW and General Motors as automakers that buy its bags for their U.S. vehicles.

The NHTSA investigation says that the six cases involving injuries -- all apparently minor -- took place in high-humidity locations, Florida and Puerto Rico. But, the document says: "In calendar year 2013, Honda, along with Toyota, BMW, Nissan and Mazda, initiated safety recalls to address passenger bag ruptures in certain (2001 through 2004) models. None of these recalls were regional in nature or attributable to atmospheric conditions in field use."

A preliminary investigation is the first of several steps that could lead to a recall, though in this case, many cars with the bags appear already to have been recalled by individual automakers.

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