For many years now, automakers that utilized Takata air bags in their vehicles have dealt with countless recalls after defective inflators were found to be responsible for a number of serious injuries and deaths. The resulting cumulative recall became the largest in history, covering roughly six million vehicles across a number of automakers, including three million Ford vehicles. Ford no longer uses Takata air bags in its vehicles, but now faces another potential air bag-related problem after being named a defendant in a lawsuit claiming air bag inflators supplied by ARC Automotive Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee are defective as well, according to The Detroit News.
The class action lawsuit – filed in San Francisco, California – claims that ARC knowingly produced defective air bag inflators and sold them to air bag manufacturers, who in turn sold those units to automotive manufacturers including Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen. The air bag inflators are said to pose a risk of exploding, reportedly causing at least four injuries and two deaths thus far.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating ARC for seven years now but has yet to produce a resolution. The agency estimates that there are roughly 51 million of the defective inflators currently in vehicles on U.S. roads, which represents between 10-20 percent of all vehicles in operation.
The problem stems from the use of ammonium nitrate, which is utilized as a secondary propellant to inflate the air bags. That propellant is pressed into tablets that can, when exposed to moisture, develop tiny holes, enlarging their surface area, which can cause them to burn too fast and cause a larger-than-expected explosion that can blow apart a metal canister housing the chemical at such a violent rate that metal shards can be sent flying through the cabin. Despite these risks, a total of five recalls spanning 5,000 vehicles have been issued thus far, paling in comparison to the response to the very similar Takata air bag inflator issue.