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Takata airbag recall affects millions of drivers

Federal safety regulators have called on Takata Corp. and several automakers to go nationwide with their defective airbag recall, adding tens of millions of additional cars to the recall rolls. Exploding inflators in some airbags manufactured by Takata have reportedly killed at least five drivers and injured thousands.

Until this week the U.S. recall was limited to 11 million vehicles registered in states along the Gulf Coast.

Drivers can find out if their vehicle is among the 50-odd models on the recall list by visiting www.AirbagFAQ.com. The list includes vehicle sold by Acura, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Saab, Subaru and Toyota.

The U.S. recall has been limited to Gulf Coast states because high humidity causes Takata’s airbag propellant to burn faster than designed in a crash, exploding the inflator and shooting sharp metal and plastic fragments into the vehicle. The government’s call for a nationwide recall comes after an accident in North Carolina—well outside those high-humidity conditions—left a driver slashed by shrapnel-like inflator fragments.

Takata whistleblowers allege a coverup

Takata makes a third of airbags used by the auto industry, and more than 17 million cars equipped with their airbags have been recalled worldwide.  They’ve manufactured auto parts since the 1950s; airbags account for about 40 percent of the company’s total revenue, which amounted to $4.88 billion in 2013.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has subpoenaed Takata after whistleblowers alleged that the company knew about the exploding inflator problem 10 years ago, but covered up the results of damning internal investigations. Takata denies wrongdoing.