NHTSA Probing Problems With Side Air Bags, More Recalls Possible

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is probing problems with side air bags that may not inflate in a crash.

The issue has led to the recalls of more than 2,700 Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and Nissan vehicles, a number expected to increase should the NHTSA learns that other car makers used defective parts, said the Detroit Free Press.

The recalled vehicles could have a faulty combination of the gas that inflates the side curtain air bags during a crash; the faulty mix could mean that the air bags on one or both sides of the impacted vehicles will fail to inflate, which would increase injury risks, according to the NHTSA documents posted on its web site, said the Detroit Free Press. To date, there have been no reports of injuries.

Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and Nissan told the agency that the American arm of Swedish safety parts maker Autoliv, manufactured the air bags. The investigation was initiated February 14, wrote the Detroit Free Press.

Autoliv wrote to the NHTSA advising it that it shipped about 10,500 defective inflators to automakers and two other air bag makers; other care companies involved are Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Kia Motors America, and Suzuki. Autoliv’s letter did not indicate which vehicle models were made with the defective inflators.

GM and Ford spokesman said the air bag inflators used in their vehicles are designed differently from those used in other vehicles and have not failed in what they described as “extensive” testing, so they don’t expect to be involved in future recalls, said the Detroit Free Press. Suzuki said it had not been advised of the issue; the Detroit Free Press left messages for the spokesman at Chrysler and Kia.

Autoliv told the Detroit Free Press that the issue took place once in production parts tests conducted at 22 degrees below Fahrenheit; however, additional testing indicated a malfunction risk at low temperatures according to spokesman Mats Odman. “We are in a dialogue with our customers and the authorities to ensure that they are fully informed and that the driving public could rely on our products,” Odman wrote.

According to documents, said the Detroit Free Press, Toyota and Honda first realized the issue and reported it to NHTSA on January 31. The recalled vehicles include 427 Toyota RAV-4s from the 2011 model year manufactured November 24, 2011 – December 19, 2011; 974 Honda Accords, Civics, Crosstours, and Acura MDXs from model year 2012 made November 30, 2011 – January 26, 2012; 381 2012 Subaru Legacy and Outback cars manufactured December 1 – 23, 2011; and 976 2012 Nissan Altimas and Versa cars manufactured November 21, 2011 – December 21, 2011.

We previously wrote that emerging research into front air bags prompted efficacy questions. Research found that when looking at air bags, new versions might be placing drivers wearing seat belts at risk. The newest airbags were required in all vehicles in 2008, some as far back as 2004. Meanwhile, the Honda Motor Company previously expanded an international recall for faulty air bags, which followed a massive move involving hundreds of thousands of Honda vehicles sold in the United States over concerns that Honda airbags may explode.

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