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Takata airbag recall, long-delayed, is now the largest in history

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Yuya Shino/AP/File

(Read caption) A billboard advertisement of Takata Corp in Tokyo. Following an order from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the airbag manufacturer Takata has agreed to expand its recall of airbag inflators—effectively doubling the scope of a recall pertaining to potentially injurious or deadly shrapnel-prone airbag deployment.

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Following an order from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the airbag manufacturer Takata has agreed to expand its recall of airbag inflators—effectively doubling the scope of a recall pertaining to potentially injurious or deadly shrapnel-prone airbag deployment.

With this, the effort will affect a total of nearly 34 million vehicles. That’s more than 16 million passenger-side airbag inflators, plus more than 17 million driver-side inflators.

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It’s now not only the largest automotive recall ever, but one of the largest-ever consumer-product recalls in history—greater in number, as the The Wall Street Journal points out, than the 31 million bottles of Tylenol capsules recalled in the 1980s as part of a cyanide-poisoning scare.

Takata has until now shown reluctance to recall affected cars, lacked transparency about when and what it’s previously been aware of, and failed to allow federal access to documents. As such, it’s become the target of a criminal investigation, and subject to escalating federal fines.

Still at question is the root cause of the issue. Earlier reports blamed the propellent as a possible cause, while other reports earlier suggested that the inflators themselves had been damaged during storage or transit.

Parts and repairs: A long, complicated road ahead

One of the biggest issues pertaining to the recall—more so than keeping dealership service departments busy—is getting new parts for the repairs. A federal statement said that it’s expected that vehicles will be prioritized for repairs based on relative risk—which corresponds to the age of the vehicle and whether it’s been in a high-moisture climate.

“The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.”

“It’s fair to say that this is probably the most complex consumer recall in history,” added Foxx. “So we have a lot of work to do.”

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This recall involves vehicles from eleven auto manufacturers in all: BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.

The issue has now been tied to at least six deaths worldwide.

Some of the models added in the latest round of expanded recalls include the 2001-2006 Honda Civic, 2003-2007 Honda Accord, 2003-2007 Toyota Corolla, 2003-2007 Toyota Matrix, and 2003-2007 Pontiac Vibe.

Once cars affected by the new round of recalls get added to the system (over the next several weeks), you’ll be able to check if your vehicle is affected by the issue here, where you can already check if a previously recalled vehicle still needs the repair.