DETROIT, MI – A new and distinct problem has been discovered in air bags made by the now bankrupt company Takata which has led to at least one death.
The recently discovered malfunction is different than the defect that led to at least 24 deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide, though the result, like the earlier issue, leads to air bags that can explode and hurl shrapnel, killing or injuring people.
Takata is adding about 1.4 million front driver inflators to recalls in the U.S., according to government documents posted Wednesday.
BMW is warning owners of some older 3-series cars to stop driving them.
A driver in Australia was killed by an airbag malfunction, while another Australian and a driver in Cyprus were injured, according to government documents.
Included in the recall Wednesday are more than 116,000 BMW 3-Series cars from the 1999 to 2001 model years. About 8,000 definitely have faulty inflators and should be parked, BMW said. The rest can still be driven.
In addition, certain Audi, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi vehicles made from 1995 to 2000 also are being recalled, but information on which models was not available Wednesday.
Unlike previous recalls, the Takata non-azide inflators do not use volatile ammonium nitrate to fill the air bags in a crash. But the air bag propellant can still deteriorate over time when exposed to moisture and explode too fast, blowing apart the inflator body. They also might not fully inflate to protect people in a crash.
Takata says in government documents that it made about 4.5 million of the inflators worldwide but only a portion are still in use because the vehicles are so old. The faulty inflators have problems with insufficient seals.
Toyota and Honda said they're still figuring out which models will have to be recalled. U.S. safety regulators said they were told by Mitsubishi that the only U.S. vehicle affected is the 1998 through 2000 Montero. A company spokesman was seeking more information.
In a statement, Audi said it is investigating whether any 1997 to 1999 model year A4, A6, A8, or TT vehicles are affected in the U.S.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement that it is in discussions with automakers about the recalls. It urged owners to search for recalls in the coming weeks by entering their vehicle identification number at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/recalls
In the BMW recalls, the company is recommending that people stop driving certain 1999 323i and 328i sedans made from July of 1998 through January of 1999. Spokesman Oleg Satanovsky said those cars have inflators that were made at a Takata factory and are known to be faulty because they were manufactured before production improvements.
The company also is recalling another 34,000 323i and 328i sedans from 1999-2000 and 323Ci and 328Ci coupes from the 2000 model year. These cars were made from March of 1998 through March of 2000 and have inflators made at two Takata plants that could be defective. Satanovsky says these cars will be inspected and some could get new inflators.
A third group of cars, just over 74,000, is being recalled. This group includes 323i, 325i, 328i, 330i sedans from the 1999 through 2001 model years. They were produced from May 1999 through July of 2000 and may have had air bag inflators replaced by defective ones. They also will be inspected.
BMW is still developing a remedy for the problem, but the company intends to replace faulty inflators with new ones. The company says owners will be notified when parts are available.
The recall is another in a long saga of problems with Takata inflators that sent the company into bankruptcy.
Nineteen automakers are recalling about 70 million inflators in what has become the largest string of automotive recalls in U.S. history. The company is recalling about 100 million inflators worldwide.
Most of the recalled inflators use ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion and inflate the air bags. But the chemical deteriorates when exposed to high temperatures and humidity and can burn too fast, blowing apart the canister designed to contain the explosion.
The remnants of Takata were purchased by Chinese-owned Key Safety Systems for $1.6 billion (175 billion yen). A message was left seeking comment from the successor company, Joyson Safety Systems.
This story has been corrected to clarify that only about 8,000 of the recalled BMW vehicles should not be driven