The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to recall 52 million air bag inflators after finding that they can rupture, causing shrapnel to fly and cause injuries. In the United States, it’s already killed one person and injured seven others, and the agency expressed that there could be more if the inflators aren’t either recalled or replaced.
The air bag inflators were manufactured by ARC Automotive Inc. and Delphi Automotive Systems through January 2018, according to the agency. As air bags continued to rupture, the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation requested in April 2023 that ARC Automotive initiate a recall.
But ARC Automotive argued that the agency lacked “sufficient evidence” that there was a safety defect and that the seven confirmed ruptures that caused injuries were “occasional or isolated failures that are an inevitable part of any volume manufacturing process.”
Delphi Automotive Systems has since been bought by Autoliv ASP, Inc., who may not be liable for the inflators made prior to their acquisition. The NHTSA hasn’t verified whose legal responsibility it would be, but it could fall on the vehicle manufacturers who used the inflators as part of their original equipment.
According to the agency’s investigation, the weld slag is likely causing the ruptures. When the weld slag gets dislodged, it can block the inflator’s exit orifice when the air bag deploys, causing the inflator to rupture due to over-pressurization. It has the potential to propel shrapnel or metal fragments from the inflator into the passenger compartment.
The NHTSA’s holding a public meeting on the proposed recall on October 5.
The affected vehicles
The air bag inflators were incorporated into vehicles at the following 12 manufacturers:
- BMW of North America, LLC
- FCA US LLC
- Ford Motor Company
- General Motors LLC
- Hyundai Motor America, Inc.
- Kia America, Inc.
- Maserati North America, Inc.
- Mercedes-Benz USA LLC
- Porsche Cars North America, Inc.
- Tesla Inc.
- Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
- Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.
The injuries prompting the recall
The NHTSA received reports of seven injuries and one death in the United States in connection to the air bag inflators. They are also aware of two incidents outside of the U.S. − an air bag inflator that ruptured in Turkey but caused no injuries, and one that caused the death of a driver in China.
Here are the details of the U.S. incidents:
- In January 2009, a driver in Ohio was severely injured after the air bag inflator ruptured on his 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
- In April 2014, a New Mexico driver sustained injuries on his face and legs after his driver’s side air bag inflator ruptured in his 2004 Kia Optima.
- In September 2017, a Pennsylvania driver sustained face and head injuries after the driver’s side air bag inflator ruptured in his 2010 Chevrolet Malibu.
- In August 2021, a Michigan driver was killed after the driver’s side air bag inflator ruptured in their 2015 Chevrolet Traverse.
- In October 2021, a driver side air bag inflator in a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse ruptured in Kentucky and caused the driver facial injuries.
- In December 2021, a California passenger and driver were both injured after the passenger-side air bag inflator ruptured in a 2016 Audi A3 e-Tron.
- In March 2023, the air bag inflator on the driver’s side in a 2017 Chevrolet Traverse ruptured in Michigan, causing the driver facial injuries.
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