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

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may require a dozen automakers in the US to recall over 50 million vehicles. In its Initial Decision published on Tuesday, the agency stated that certain airbag inflators manufactured by ARC and Delphi should be recalled. If this decision is finalized, automakers such as BMW, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen will have to recall the affected vehicles.

The NHTSA has been investigating reports of airbag inflators rupturing from ARC and Delphi since 2016. In April, the agency requested ARC to initiate a recall, but the company declined. The Initial Decision reveals that the agency believes 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 the inflator to over-pressurize and rupture, posing a risk of sending shrapnel and metal fragments into the passenger compartment.

According to the NHTSA, there have been seven reported injuries and one fatality related to rupturing inflators. The incidents involved inflators produced at different times at three different facilities used by four different module suppliers and installed into four different vehicle makes. The first incident occurred in 2009, with the most recent happening in March 2023 in a Chevrolet Traverse. People have been injured in Kia, Chrysler, Hyundai, and Volkswagen vehicles. In May, GM recalled nearly 1 million SUVs from Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC due to the potential airbag rupture issue. More recalls could follow after the NHTSA finalizes its decision, which may happen as early as next month.

The airbag inflators in question were manufactured between 2000 and 2018. During this period, ARC produced 41 million inflators, while Delphi made 11 million before halting production in 2004. In January 2018, ARC implemented a new examination process to identify excess weld slag in the inflators. The NHTSA has not received any reports of inflator ruptures since the implementation of this new examination process.

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

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