Possible Recall: Federal Authorities Declare 52 Million Airbags from 12 Automakers as Unsafe

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US is pushing for a potential recall of over 50 million vehicles from a dozen automakers. The agency released its Initial Decision stating that certain airbag inflators manufactured by ARC and Delphi should be recalled.

If the recall is initiated, it would affect BMW, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

The NHTSA has been investigating reports of rupturing airbag inflators from ARC and Delphi since 2016. In April, the agency requested ARC to initiate a recall, but the company declined.

According to the Initial Decision, the agency believes that the friction welding process used to bind the inflator’s upper and lower pressure vessels can create slag that may block the inflator exit during airbag deployment. If the slag is large enough, it can cause over-pressurization and rupture of the inflator, leading to the release of shrapnel and metal fragments into the passenger compartment.

The NHTSA has identified seven people injured by rupturing inflators and one fatality, making it a complex investigation. The incidents involved inflators produced at different times in three facilities used by four module suppliers and installed in four different vehicle makes.

The first incident occurred in 2009, with the most recent in March 2023 involving a Chevrolet Traverse. Injuries have been reported in vehicles from Kia, Chrysler, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. In May, GM issued a recall for nearly 1 million SUVs from Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC due to the risk of airbag rupture. More recalls may follow once the NHTSA finalizes its decision, which could happen next month.

The airbag inflators under scrutiny were manufactured between 2000 and 2018. ARC produced 41 million inflators during that period, while Delphi made 11 million before halting production in 2004. In January 2018, ARC implemented a new examination process to detect excess weld slag in the inflators, and since then, the NHTSA has not been aware of any ruptures.

The NHTSA plans to hold a public meeting on October 5, which will be livestreamed, allowing ARC and others to present arguments against the presence of a safety defect in the inflators. The agency has not specified when it will issue its final decision.

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