NHTSA Demands Recall of 52 Million Airbag Inflators That Can Explode, Hurl Shrapnel
The NHTSA announced on September 5, 2023, that it had decided that airbag inflators made by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive are defective, according to the Associated Press [1.]. The agency scheduled a public hearing for October 5, which would be the final step before seeking a court-ordered recall on the airbag inflators.
How Many People Have Been Injured by Defective Airbag Inflators?
According to the NHTSA, at least 7 injuries and 2 deaths in the U.S. and Canada have been linked to allegedly faulty airbag inflators made by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive.
One person who died after an ARC inflator explosion was Marlene Beaudoin, a 40-year-old mother from Michigan. She was struck by metal fragments when her 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV was involved in a minor crash in 2021. The most recent airbag rupture was reported on March 22, 2023.
“An inflator that explosively ruptures, propelling metal fragments at high velocity into an occupied passenger compartment of a motor vehicle — and into the occupants themselves — cannot simply be dismissed as a normal manufacturing anomaly, with vehicle owners left uninformed yet bearing the risk of the peril they and their occupants face,” the agency wrote.
Why Haven't Manufacturers Recalled the Airbags?
In May 2023, the NHTSA asked ARC to issue a formal recall on the inflators, but the company refused, maintaining that no safety defect exists, that the agency's demand is based on a hypothesis rather than technical conclusions, and that it has no authority to enforce an auto parts recall.
Additionally, ARC has said in letters to the government that it can’t state for sure whether its inflators might rupture again.
“Even with appropriate industry standards and efforts by manufacturers to minimize the risks of failures, the manufacturing processes may not completely eliminate the risk of occasional or isolated failures,” ARC said.
The company further argued that the federal motor vehicle safety act “does not require vehicles and equipment to never experience a failure in the field. Rather the Safety Act seeks to protect the public against unreasonable risks.”
What's the Problem With the Airbag Inflators?
An NHTSA investigation has revealed that byproducts from welding during the manufacturing process can clog a vent inside the inflator canister that is designed to let gas escape to fill airbags during a crash. In faulty inflators, however, pressure can build to the point where the canister is blown apart.
“These air bag inflators may rupture when the vehicle’s airbag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the passenger compartment of the vehicle,” NHTSA said. “A rupturing air bag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants.”
The inflators that NHTSA wants recalled were manufactured before 2018 when ARC installed scopes to monitor welding byproducts and the vents. The agency said it is unaware of any explosions involving inflators that were manufactured after the scopes were installed.
Which Vehicles are Installed with Defective Airbag Inflators?
NHTSA is demanding that ARC and Delphi recall inflators in driver and passenger front airbags from 12 different automakers. A comprehensive list of vehicle models with the airbag inflators in question has not been released. However, it is known that at least 25 million of the 284 million vehicles on U.S. roads are believed to contain them.
Owners of vehicles made by the following auto brands are left to wonder whether their vehicles contain driver or front passenger inflators made by ARC: Hyundai, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Kia.
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