DETROIT – Honda is adding nearly 105,000 vehicles to its growing U.S. recall of driver’s side air bag inflators that can explode with too much force.
The added vehicles include nearly 89,000 Pilot SUVs from the 2008 model year, as well as about 11,000 Civics from 2004 and another 5,000 Accords from the 2001 model year.
Honda says it’s the first recall of 2008 Pilots for potential problems with driver’s air bags made by Takata Corp. of Japan. The inflators can blow apart a metal canister and spew shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least six people have died worldwide due to the problem.
Dealers will replace the driver air bag inflators for free. With the added vehicles, Honda has now recalled 5.5 million Honda and Acura cars and SUVs nationwide from the 2001 to 2011 model years because of the air bag problems.
So far, 10 different automakers have recalled over 17 million cars and trucks in the U.S. and 22 million worldwide because of the air bag problem. There could be as many as 30 million vehicles with Takata air bags across the U.S.
Honda says in documents posted Thursday by U.S. safety regulators that it found the additional vehicles by checking Takata inflator part numbers against Honda vehicle identification numbers in its factory records. Some 2001 Accords and 2004 Civics already were included in a recall from last year.
The expansion “reflects all possible vehicles that could potentially experience the problem,” Honda said in documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a statement, Honda said it has not received any claims of inflator ruptures in any of the 2008 Pilot models. The company said it will send letters to owners of vehicles in the expanded recall “over time” as replacement parts become available.
The recalls are nationwide for driver’s side air bags, but passenger inflators are being recalled only in high-humidity areas including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Takata uses ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion that quickly inflates its air bags. But government investigators say the chemical can burn faster than designed if exposed to prolonged airborne moisture. That can cause it to blow apart a metal canister meant to contain the explosion. Automakers, Takata and the government all want to find out just how much humidity and time it takes to cause the problem, both of which are unknown.
Takata, NHTSA and the auto industry are investigating to figure out just how much humidity over how much time can cause the problem to happen.
The 10 automakers, fed up with slow progress by Takata in finding the cause, hired a Virginia rocket science company to investigate the matter. Orbital ATK, which makes rocket propulsion systems, small arms ammunition and other products, has the ability to quickly simulate the impact of humidity on chemicals over long periods of time.
NHTSA began fining Takata $14,000 per day on Feb. 20 for allegedly failing to fully cooperate in the government’s investigation. The fines have grown to $392,000 as of Thursday. The Justice Department also is investigating Takata for possible criminal prosecution. The company has known about the air bag problems since at least 2004.
At least 70 lawsuits have been filed over the air bag malfunctions in courts across the nation, according to NHTSA.