Around 100 million cars from at least 13 manufacturers are set to be recalled after airbag supplier Takata conceded that it had hidden evidence of potentially lethal issues with its detonator system.
Last week Takata agreed to pay $1bn (£820m) in penalties - made up of a $25m fine, $125m compensation for people injured or killed by the airbags and $850m to car makers that used them. At least 12 deaths and 180 injuries have been attributed to the faults.
The potential faults were first raised in 2006, when Takata officials conceded that some of its airbag inflators expanded with too much force and sprayed metal shrapnel into cars. The airbags also had the potential to deploy inadvertently, particularly in humid conditions. However, the full extent of the issue is only now coming to light.
"For more than a decade, Takata repeatedly and systematically falsified critical test data related to the safety of its products, putting profits and production schedules ahead of safety," said Andrew Weissmann, head of the US Justice Department's fraud section.
Around 42m cars are believed to be affected in the US, with the rest spread around the world. Honda has the most vehicles affected, while other brands to have used Takata airbags include Acura, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Daimler, Dodge, Ferrari, Fisker, Ford, GMC, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Ram, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Individual manufacturers will contact owners of affected vehicles to have the fault rectified free of charge. The issue is more significant in some regions of the world than others, because humid conditions are believed to be the most significant factor in triggering the airbag deployment explosive inadvertently.