Defective Takata airbags are still being used in new cars

2016 Audi TT interior

The biggest automotive recall in history just got messier. A report compiled by the Senate Commerce Committee revealed that at least four automakers (Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler and Mitsubishi) are continuing to sell new cars with defective, and potentially dangerous, airbags.

The recall was announced after an investigation into airbag-maker Takata revealed a design flaw that caused at least 13 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Over 60 million vehicles from fourteen different manufacturers are affected by the recall.

The problem stems from Takata's use of ammonium nitrate, which helps generate the gasses that fill an airbag. Ammonium nitrate breaks down over time when exposed to moisture or temperature swings, causing an airbag's metal casing to disintegrate and explode. Takata is the only airbag manufacturer to use the compound, which the company agreed to phase out in the terms of the recall.

A temporary solution

However, the recall hasn't stopped at least four car manufacturers from continuing to install airbags that contain ammonium nitrate. The offending airbags feature non-desiccated ammonium nitrate, which combats moisture build up but it's only a band-aid on the problem, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Although safer than the recalled airbags, they still pose a risk to drivers.

This means people buying new cars, cars that aren't even for sale yet, will have to eventually bring their cars in for replacement airbags. The offending automakers are proceeding to sell cars with the non-desiccated ammonium nitrate, knowing full well that they'll eventually have to be replaced.

Toyota admitted to the Senate Commerce Committee that it plans to sell about 175,000 cars in the US with the band-aid airbags through July 2017. Volkswagen also admitted that its Audi TT and Audi R8 cars use the riskier airbags.

Takata airbag recall completion numbers

The report also revealed "unacceptably low" recall completion rates for 11 automakers. Honda is doing the best with 39.5% completion while Daimler Vans and GM have completed less than 1%.

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.