Last month, automakers Toyota, BMW, Subaru, and Mazda agreed to pay a total of $553 million to current and former owners and lessees of 15.8 million vehicles that were fitted with airbags manufactured by Takata, the Japanese automotive parts company. The plaintiffs’ class-action lawsuit alleged that Takata airbags are prone to rupture, and have been linked to at least 11 deaths and over 100 injuries in the United States.
The cause of the ruptured airbags is alleged to be their inflation mechanism, which uses a compound called ammonium nitrate that fills the bags in a powerful controlled explosion. When ammonium nitrate is exposed to air or moisture over long periods of time, however, it can become unstable and explode more violently than it is intended, making the airbags particularly dangerous to consumers living in the Southeastern United States and Hawaii.
The defect has prompted the United States’s largest automobile recall ever, affecting almost 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles.