An autopsy has found that a metal disc from a defective air bag sliced into a Texas man's neck and killed him after a low-speed car accident near Houston.

Tokyo, Japan - Takata, the Japanese component supplier at the centre of a global vehicle recall, ordered its technicians to destroy results of tests on some of its air bags after finding cracks in air bag inflators.

The tests were carried out on the inflators - steel canisters that contain an explosive charge used to inflate the bags in a collision - after an accident in 2004 when an inflator in a Honda Accord exploded, ejecting metal fragments and injuring the driver.

Quoting two former Takata employees, the New York Times said on Friday the company had retrieved 50 airbags from scrap yards for tests not long after the accident.

Instead of alerting US federal safety regulators to the possible danger, it said, Takata executives ordered the technicians to destroy the test data.

STARTLING RESULTS

Takata has been beset by chronic problems with defective inflators in its air bags, which can explode with excessive force and spray metal shards. The air bags, used by many leading car makers, are the focus of a US regulatory probe and have prompted the recall of some 17 million cars worldwide in the past six years, and more could follow.

The unnamed ex-employees told the New York Times that the test results in 2004 were so startling that engineers began designing possible fixes to prepare for a recall. The tests, supervised by Takata's then-vice president for engineering Al Bernat, were done at Takata's US headquarters in Michigan, they said.

After three months, an order came to halt the testing and destroy the data, including video and computer backups.

The tests were conducted four years before Takata said in regulatory filings that it first tested the problematic air bags, according to the report.