The Science Behind Faulty Takata Airbags


The Takata airbag recall is still a prevalent problem, especially for those of us along the hot and humid Gulf Coast region, but why?

First, let’s look at the physics behind airbags. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, also known as the law of inertia, states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion with the same speed and direction unless acted upon by an external force. So, what does this have to do with airbags? When you get into a car crash, your body will need to be stopped by something. Airbags react, by inflation, to the force produced by the collision in order to safely stop your body from hitting anything in front of you.  The airbag quickly deflates in order to gradually bring your momentum down, preventing any further damage.

How do airbags work?  In the event of a car crash, there is a sensor in front of the automobile that detects the collision. The sensor sends an electrical signal to the inflator, which is packed in a small metal cartridge, in the airbag system. The inflator then ignites an explosive charge, usually a reaction with sodium azide (NaN3) and potassium nitrate (KNO3), which produces a nitrogen gas that quickly fills up the airbags. There are vents in the bag which releases this gas so that it doesn’t completely explode.

So, where did Takata go wrong? Ammonium Nitrate (NH4)(NO3), a white crystalline solid used as a fertilizer and as a component of some explosives. This is the chemical that Takata used in their airbags. When heated, ammonium nitrate breaks down into one molecule of nitrous oxide and two molecules of water, which is a volatile reaction. There are two things that affect this volatility: water vaper and hot areas. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration three independent studies, that have been verified by NHTSA’s independent expert, have shown that “the ammonium nitrate propellant in non-desiccated frontal Takata air bag inflators degrades over time, after long-term exposure to environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures.” This causes the weakened inflator to explode much more violently than intended, sending metal shards (shrapnel) from the cartridge through the airbag which has now killed over 10 people and injured many more.

If you live in a hot and humid area, like Texas or Florida, we urge you to please check your vehicle for recalls at and continue to do so because The United States Department of Transportation expect the number of affected vehicles to keep rising. If you or a loved one have been injured by a Takata airbag, please contact The Merman Law Firm today for a free consultation.