Mark Lillie is the former Engineering Manager and Senior Propellant Engineer for Takata Corp. Back in 1999, he warned executives of the auto parts manufacturer that a chemical propellant—ammonium nitrate—was too volatile to be used in airbag inflators. When exposed to off-and-on hot and cold temperatures and high humidity, this chemical can become more and more explosive. Fast forward several years, and now Takata is knee deep in the largest automotive recall in history, and it’s all because it didn’t listen to the warnings of one of its leading engineers.
How the Takata Recall Might Be Recalled
You see, Takata airbag inflators use ammonium nitrate to generate the gas that fills the airbag that is meant to save your life in a wreck. However, this chemical is known for being highly unstable. It is used in demolition, mining, and it was a key component to the bomb constructed by Timothy McVeigh to attack an Oklahoma City federal building. Is it any wonder that this destructive chemical is blowing up airbags too powerfully and causing injuries and deaths?
Investigations are starting to show that Mark Lillie’s warning may not have been the only notice Takata had about the misstep. From 2000-2014 a string of patents registered by Takata have tried to solve this unstable chemical problem. The solution the company came up with was a vent on the inflator and a “desiccant” meant to keep the ammonium nitrate from absorbing moisture, but this solution may not be enough.
Lillie says that the desiccant doesn’t provide a solution for the instability caused by heat and humidity. It will only delay the degradation of this chemical, which means trouble for drivers. Replacement Takata airbag inflators still use ammonium nitrate, but they contain the desiccant that Lillie warns won’t work. So if Lillie is correct, the airbag inflator replacements could eventually become just as volatile as the parts they replaced.
A whole new recall could be spawned from the Takata nightmare. What does this mean for your automotive safety? What should you do with your Takata airbag equipped vehicle? Join us on Facebook and Twitter to talk about this topic. You can also keep reading our blog for the latest updates and news about defective auto parts recalls.