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Takata air bag recall to affect 34 million U.S. vehicles: Part I

In a post last week, we discussed how air bags work. This safety device relies on a rather complex process that we too often take for granted - until something goes wrong. Air bags that deploy mere fractions of a second too late could result in serious injury or even death during a collision.

Throughout 2014 and much of this year, the General Motors recall scandal has been a major news story. When GM's defective ignition switches would accidentally kill power to the engine, this glitch also disabled the air bags. This, of course, was not the only recall story last year or the only story about defects that impacted air bags.

Takata, a Japanese manufacturer of auto parts, came under heavy scrutiny in 2014 due to allegations that its air bags can inflate too forcefully, causing metal components to explode. This, in turn, can send shrapnel into the cab of a vehicle with deadly force. So far, the defect has been tied to more than 100 injuries and six deaths.

The company's defective air bags became big news in 2014, but the problem has apparently been around for more than a decade. As with the GM scandal, it appears as though Takata officials may have known about the problem but tried to cover it up.

Even after admitting to problems, Takata has tried to limit the number of vehicles recalled in the United States. But earlier this week, the company announced that it will double the number of vehicles recalled to 34 million, which makes this the largest auto recall in U.S. history. To put this into context, about one in every seven cars in America has been or will be recalled.

Because Takata is an auto parts manufacturer that sells to automakers, its air bags have been installed in vehicles made by most of the world's best-known brands. Because of this and because of the sheer size of the recall, there is likely to be significant confusion among American drivers as to whether or not their vehicle has been recalled.

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: The New York Times, "Airbag Recall Widens to 34 Million Cars as Takata Admits Defects," Danielle Ivory and Hiroko Tabuchi, May 19, 2015

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