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Tesla to start replacing passenger airbags in all 2012 Model S sedans due to industry-wide Takata recall

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Takata’s faulty airbag inflators resulted in the largest automotive recall in U.S. history and it got even bigger last year when they added 40 million more airbags, including some installed in Tesla vehicles. The recall affects over 40 million vehicles and it is one of the most complex ever undertaken.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued several guidelines to facilitate the process of gradually recalling the cars based on the risk they represent and now Tesla will start replacing passenger airbags in its older Model S sedans in the coming weeks.

NHTSA described the root cause of the problem last year:

” A combination of time, environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures contribute to the degradation of the ammonium nitrate propellant in the inflators. Such degradation can cause the propellant to burn too quickly, rupturing the inflator module and sending shrapnel through the air bag and into the vehicle occupants.”

While it certainly sounds scary, Takata’s airbags under recall are not all equally dangerous or even dangerous at all for years after being installed in a new vehicle. Therefore, the agency is issuing recalls in phases starting with the more at risk units.

It depends on the regions where the vehicles are used, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind:

“The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature.”

Technically, Tesla is only required to replace the airbags in cars located in regions designated as “high humidity”, but the automaker decided to not take any chance and recall all of them – starting with the one delivered in 2012.

Today, Tesla started reaching out to the Model S owners affected by the recall. They wrote in an email:

Tesla will replace the passenger airbags in all 2012 Model S vehicles globally. The safety of our customers is paramount and Tesla is taking this action even though there have been no airbag ruptures or other related incidents in any of its vehicles.

The recall for 2012 models will start in February, but ultimately, all Model S produced up to “late 2016” will be affected. Tesla Roadster, Model X vehicles, or new 2017 Model S sedans are not affected by the Takata recall.

Owners will gradually receive recall notices based on NHTSA’s schedule. Tesla wrote in the same email:

Although the current recall only applies to 2012 Model S vehicles, the passenger airbags of all Model S vehicles produced through late 2016 are expected to eventually be recalled. If you own a Model S produced between 2013 and 2016, your airbags are safe, and you do not need to take any action until you receive further notice from Tesla. As noted by NHTSA, customers do not need to be concerned about Takata inflators before they receive a recall notice. Nevertheless, for convenience and peace of mind, Tesla will make every effort to proactively replace the airbags of all affected vehicles even before they are recalled. This will be performed as parts supply allows, and at this time you do not need to take any action.

The logistic nightmare is only one part of the mess that the Takata recall has created. It has been tied to “ten deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States” alone. Last week, three Takata executives were charged for their roles in the situation and the company agreed to a $1 billion settlement, which includes “a $25 million fine, $125 million for victim compensation and $850 million to compensate automobile manufacturers.”

For more information about the recall process, Tesla owners can go to the company’s support page.

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