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Five years later, recalls for air bag defect continue to climb

There are certain parts of our automobiles that we just assume are failsafe given the vital role they play. For instance, we assume that our seat belts will always remain fastened, our anti-lock brakes will always activate, and our air bags will always deploy in a safe manner.

As wonderful as this would be, the truth is that even the most important safety devices on automobiles can sometimes be rendered ineffective by an otherwise unforeseen auto defect.

To illustrate, consider an ongoing problem concerning potentially flawed air bag inflators that up until Monday had resulted in the recall of 7.6 million vehicles by Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and BMW, and been connected to at least two fatalities.

Here, the air bag inflators were manufactured by the Takata Corporation between 2000 and 2002, and present an elevated risk of suddenly exploding and sending shrapnel into vehicle occupants.

The defect has been attributed to the mishandling of the explosive material used to ignite the air bag inflators at the Takata Corp.'s Mexico and U.S.-based plants.

While the aforementioned automakers believed that the air bag defect issue, which began appearing back in 2007, had been all but eliminated following a series of 2013 recalls, it appears this hasn't been the case.

On Monday, Honda, Nissan and Mazda announced that they were collectively recalling an additional three million vehicles to fix the potentially combustible air bag problem.

This recall action will push the total number of vehicles recalled for the faulty air bag inflators over the last five years to roughly 10.5 million, placing it among the top five largest auto recalls ever undertaken.

It is worth noting, however, that these three automakers plus BMW, Toyota, Chrysler and Ford also announced on Monday that they were conducting "field actions" at the behest of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to replace the air bag inflators in areas of the nation with high humidity levels.

The high humidity areas determined by the NHTSA for the field action include Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. However, Honda is expanding the scope of its own field action to cover Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina. (California is not included in any field action).

While firm estimates on the number of cars covered by the field action are lacking, NHTSA officials believe it could number in the millions.

Here's hoping that the latest recall coupled with this field action serve to get the potentially faulty air bag inflators out of vehicles currently traveling U.S. roads and highways once and for all.

Source: Reuters, "Honda and others recall nearly 3 million vehicles over air bag flaw," Yoko Kubota and Ben Klayman, June 23, 2014

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