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Takata Expands Air Bag Recall To Nearly 34 Million Vehicles

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now to the largest auto recall in U.S. history. The Japanese company Takata is doubling its airbag recall from 17 million to now nearly 34 million. NPR's Jason Margolis reports.

JASON MARGOLIS, BYLINE: Airbags are similar to rocket boosters - a solid propellant creates a gas to inflate the safety device quickly. The Takata bags were deploying with too much force, though, spraying shrapnel. Investigators still don't know exactly why this has happened, but Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a press conference today there are hints.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MARK ROSEKIND: So it is clear that moisture can affect the chemical structure of the propellant that is used in the inflator.

MARGOLIS: Six deaths and a hundred injuries have been linked to the flaw. Takata's problems date back nearly 15 years to when customers first filed complaints. Today's announcement marks a victory for the auto safety agency. Since November, it's been pressing Takata to declare millions more vehicles defective. Again, Mark Rosekind.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ROSEKIND: It's not enough to identify defects. To save lives and prevent injuries, defects must be repaired.

MARGOLIS: Logistically, recalling up to 34 million vehicles will be a huge challenged, explained Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY FOXX: It's fair to say this is probably the most complex consumer safety recall in U.S. history.

MARGOLIS: The vehicle repairs will be phased in beginning with older cars and trucks and those in high humidity areas. Mark Rosekind said drivers should check their VIN numbers to see if their vehicle requires a new airbag. They can do that at safercar.gov. Rosekind said if a repair can't be done immediately, people should continue to drive but wear a seatbelt. Takata has been working to boost production of replacement airbags. It can currently manufacture about 450,000 a month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSEKIND: The timing - I think the big question is how long is this going to take? Nobody knows that yet. There is no question, it could be some years.

MARGOLIS: Jason Margolis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.