Q&A: Takata's bankruptcy and air bag recalls

- Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan and the U.S., acknowledging that the financial problems caused by millions of faulty air bag inflators that can kill or injure people were too much to overcome.

The inflators, which fill up air bags in the event of a crash, can explode with too much force and spew metal shrapnel. At least 16 deaths worldwide and more than 180 injuries are blamed on the inflators. They also touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history, that began in 2008, with up to 69 million inflators and 42 million vehicles affected. Worldwide, about 100 million inflators are being recalled.

What car owners need to know about the massive recall:

WILL THE RECALLS CONTINUE?

Yes. Automakers are ultimately responsible for the safety of their vehicles, and they have been funding the recalls.

Takata's assets are expected to be sold for $1.6 billion to a rival company, Key Safety Systems, and part of Takata will remain under a different name to make replacement inflators for the recalls. Money from the sale will go to pay claims against Takata, including a court-ordered $850 million that will reimburse automakers for their expenses.

Another $125 million will go to victims and Takata will pay a $25 million fine to the U.S. government. It's not clear yet where the rest of the $1.6 billion will go.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THESE AIR BAGS?

Three independent reports concluded that the chemical Takata uses to inflate its air bags - ammonium nitrate - can degrade after long-term exposure to environmental moisture and high temperatures. If the ammonium nitrate degrades substantially, it can cause the inflators to become over-pressurized and rupture during air bag deployment. In the air bags being recalled, Takata didn't use a chemical desiccant, a drying agent that can counteract the effects of moisture.

HOW CAN I FIND OUT IF MY CAR HAS BEEN RECALLED?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a complete list of models covered by current and future Takata recalls. The full list can be found on the agency's website . The government's website also allows drivers search for open recalls . Owners should input the car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, which can be found on the title or registration card, or on the driver's side dash or door jamb. The VIN check page will be updated as automakers announce more recalls.

Cars and trucks made by 19 companies are included in the recall.

WHICH CARS ARE MOST AT RISK?

The government says vehicles younger than six years old aren't currently at risk of an air bag inflator rupture even if they're in a high humidity region, because it takes time for the ammonium nitrate to degrade. But the risk grows as the vehicle ages.

HOW LONG WILL I HAVE TO WAIT FOR A REPLACEMENT?

That varies by model, age of the car and manufacturer. For many models, dealers have ample parts in stock. Yet only about 15.5 million of the 69 million inflators had been replaced as of the end of April.

Parts are not yet available for some models, and other models haven't been recalled yet. More recalls are coming as more parts are made. Some Takata replacement inflators will have to be replaced again because don't have the drying agent. Other manufacturers are also supplying replacement air bags.

Remaining recalls are being phased in through the end of 2020. The phases are based on the age of the vehicles and exposure to high humidity and high temperatures. Owners will be notified when there is a remedy available and should get the repair immediately.

Some automakers are offering loaner cars until replacement parts are available.

HOW CAN I SEE IF A USED CAR HAS HAD THE RECALL REPAIR?

Dealers can legally sell used cars without notifying customers about open recalls. The government's VIN search goes back 15 years, so check the NHTSA website. Carfax, which sells vehicle history reports, also lets people check open recalls for free.

SHOULD I DISABLE MY AIR BAG WHILE I'M WAITING FOR A REPAIR?

No. If you're in a crash, it's far more likely that the air bag will protect you than hurt you. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that front air bags have saved 43,000 lives since they were required in the 1990s.

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