The largest automotive recall in history is now a little bit larger. Certain Volkswagen Beetles from 2015 and 2016 are recalled for inflators that could explode. VW says that 37,558 hardtops and convertibles are potentially affected. The problem is specifically related to the driver-side airbag.
The latest recall draws attention to cars with various types of Takata inflators that could fail due to high temperatures, humidity levels, or both. Documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reiterate this specific investigation began back in 2014, focusing on vehicles from numerous automakers sold or used in regions where high humidity levels are common. Investigations found that the humidity could be a factor in causing inflators to rupture. Initial recalls were conducted in such areas, primarily states in the southern United States but two unexplained ruptures were found in regions outside the recall zone.
That brings us to this national recall, NHTSA Campaign Number 22V-945. Prolonged exposure to high humidity, high temperatures, or temperature cycling could degrade the propellant used in the airbags, causing the rupture. That can potentially eject metal fragments throughout the interior, and the fix is to replace the driver-side airbag. VW states owner notification letters for affected Beetles will be sent out in mid-February. Concerned owners can also call 1-800-327-4236 and reference VW recall number 69EM.
This is only the latest chapter in the Takata airbag saga that began a decade ago. Initial recalls from automakers regarding potentially deadly airbag explosions started in 2013. Widely used by manufacturers around the world, deeper investigations into Takata found millions and then tens of millions of vehicles equipped with potentially faulty airbags. In 2015 it became the largest single recall ever in the history of the automobile, crossing the 40-million mark. Takata ultimately paid $1 billion in fines and damages; company executives were indicted, and it all led to Takata filing for bankruptcy in 2018.
Sadly, 24 deaths have been linked to defective inflators, with the most recent coming at the end of 2022.