By this stage, the Takata airbag recall should be old news to everyone. Being one of the biggest and most expensive recalls in history at a cost of $24 billion and counting.
So how come when our Kashy mechanics mention it to friends and family no one has ever heard of it?
The Takata Corporation was (up until recently) one of the biggest manufacturers of safety equipment for motor vehicle with a history dating back to the early 1930’s. Throughout the 1950’s and 1970’s, Takata worked to create life saving automotive devises such as seat belts, child restraints and airbags.
Much like Bosch, Denso and NGK, Takata products were a mainstay in many manufacturers vehicles as well. With Takata supplying brands like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, BMW, Audi and Ferrari. This arrangement came about because many of the parts of each individual car are too costly or time intensive for the manufacturer to create individually.
So what makes the Takata recall different?
Though you might not know it, a lot of cars are subject to recalls. More often than not, these recalls relate to an engineer designing something that works “perfectly fine” in a test environment which fails repetitively and dangerously in real world use.
Normally to classify as a recall, not only do these failures have to happen to a number of cars but, they also have to cause danger to the user. This consistent and dangerous style of failure means the government steps in and forces a manufacturer to recall all the effected vehicles and replace or repair the faulty component.
Though Takata’s recall isn’t any different in it’s core building blocks, it is a lot scarier than most in it’s actual fault.
When an airbag deploys, it uses an explosive charge triggered by an electrical signal to immediately inflate a cushion to prevent you from hitting anything in a crash. It’s basically an instant Zorb ball that protects your soft bits from hitting anything hard and made of metal at high speed.
All of these components (from the air-bag itself to the explosive charge) is housed in a specially designed metal canister that is meant to precisely split at the seams on impact and direct the explosion into the bag. Essentially making this a very well-engineered bomb.
However, as mentioned before, when a team of ‘brilliant’ engineers precisely made bomb was exposed to real world conditions over a number of years (including changing heat and humidity), the metal casing became prone to rust.
This rust weakened the design of the metal housing meaning that the casings could fracture when deploy and form small fragments. Put simply, this really simple design flaw could potentially turn this life saving device into a grenade placed within a meter of the occupants of the car.
For us, the idea that this could ever have been overlooked in design is pretty crazy however, we can’t necessarily say what the cause of this oversite was. All we know is that this is one of the worst recalls in history.
Unfortunately, this recall tested Takata to its limits and they were forced into bankruptcy in 2017 and sold to one of their competitors in 2018. While there is no excuse for putting peoples lives at risk, it was sad to see one of the older companies dedicated to occupant safety die.
So why does this recall scare mechanics too?
Put simply, someone has to be tasked with changing these rusty grenades and this task falls on mechanics. Even though the old products are required to be packed in special containers to be returned and disposed of, mechanics and apprentices are dealing with these bombs in dealerships every day for award wage.
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